A senior staff member at the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) is alleged to have urinated on staff members at a function in Armidale in late 2021, Senate estimates has heard.
He has now resigned, according to the APVMA’s chief executive officer, Lisa Croft, who was questioned about the incident at Tuesday’s hearing.
Croft confirmed that she was “aware of an incident” but denied it had happened at the APVMA’s Christmas party, as Green’s senator Peter Whish-Wilson had suggested in his question.
She said it had occurred “in a private capacity not at a work function”.
Croft admitted other staff had raised it with her, but it had not been the subject of a formal complaint.
“I understand that the people directly involved wanted me to be aware of the matter. There was no official complaint made,” Croft said.
She confirmed there had been discussions with HR and that the staff member – a member of the executive team – resigned soon after the event.
Whish-Wilson asked Croft whether there had been complaints of sexual harassment or bullying. Croft said she was not aware of any formal complaints or of three female staff making sexual harassment complaints.
The agriculture minister, Murray Watt, said he would be “seeking an urgent briefing”.
“These are obviously very concerning questions. It is certainly the first time I have heard about it,” he said.
The APVMA is the federal government agency responsible for approving registration of pesticides and other agricultural and veterinary chemicals.
It is also responsible for reviewing the registration of these chemicals if health or environmental issues are raised in scientific studies or by other regulators. Guardian reported last month several reviews had been on foot for more than a decade and the agency appeared to be struggling to complete them.
Part of the reason was believed to be that the APVMA had struggled to retain staff since being moved from Canberra to Armidale in New South Wales in 2016 by the former agriculture minister, Barnaby Joyce, whose seat includes Armidale.
Less than half the scientific staff left instead of moving, forcing the APVMA to reopen a satellite office in Canberra, which now has 42 staff, while 142 work in Armidale.
Since the move the agency had been plagued by poor morale and high staff turnover.
A public service survey showed that between 2020 and 2021 the number of APVMA staff reporting harassment and bullying had increased by 5%. One in 7 had reported they had been subjected to harassment or bullying in the workplace. 44% of survey respondents said they did not report this behaviour.