An enquiry pushed for by Frome MP Geoff Brock into the treatment of employees at the Sheriff's Office has revealed stunning details of bullying, harassment and the discouragement of witnesses.
Mr Brock received several complaints from throughout South Australia and Queensland from employees about their experiences at the Sheriff's Office last year, and as a result referred the matter on to the Parliamentary Committee for further investigation.
The 253-page report into the Courts Administration contains a raft of recommendations including that the Authority be stripped of its "despotic" power over sheriff's officers.
"The issue was taken up by the Legislative Council of Parliament of South Australia's Statutory Authorities Review Committee who called for people who had substantiated concerns or evidence of concerns while working for the Sheriff's office to come forward," Mr Brock said.
"Despite dozens of other victims who did not come forward with submissions and attempts by the Courts Administration Authority (CAA) to discourage others from appearing before the parliamentary committee, the evidence became overwhelming."
Mr Brock said the damning report had uncovered a culture of bullying and harassment which had continued for more than a decade, costing taxpayers more than $1.5m in workplace and psychological compensation payments in only one year.
The report found that many officers now suffered from depression and anxiety disorders, with some suffering from serious resulting mental health issues, as a result of the working conditions.
The report referenced the 'seriousness and compelling nature of the evidence' which had been put before the committee of inquiry which found the human resources practices dealing with Sheriff's Officers within the CAA was grossly inadequate.
According to the report, employees complained of a "consistent belligerence by management [that was] left to fester over many years."
A former Sheriff's Officer, one of many to present evidence to the committee, said the conditions had been ongoing for many years.
"...speaking to other people who have been employed there longer, it had been going on for 10 years before that, from their knowledge," the Officer had told the committee.
"They had obviously been employed for 10 years longer than I have been, and they said it has always been that culture.
"Bullying and harassment is always condoned and it's useless going to management because they will cover it up, and you are banging your head against a brick wall, and basically, if you do complain, you will be the next target."
There was also evidence that employees were discouraged from becoming witnesses in the enquiry by being wrongly informed appearing before a parliamentary committee would be "adversarial in nature".
"... they basically scared off current staff from giving evidence, that they would lose their jobs or be in the crosshairs if giving evidence," a current CAA employee testified.
As a result of their findings, report recommended a raft of changes including that the Department of Correctional Services becomes the controlling body for Sheriff's office staff.
"The bullying has been systemic over a long period of time and I am pleased that this investigation has been able to shine a light on what has really been going on," Frome MP Geoff Brock said.
"Government and its associated bodies need to operate under a higher standard and this unacceptable treatment of staff in any workplace needs to be stamped out.
"Every employee has the right to feel safe in their workplace, and a government workplace is no exception."