As part of today’s Audtor-General’s report into the Utegate affair, Treasury official Godwin Grech explains the state of his body and mind
The fact is that I was working very long hours during both the policy development and implementation phase on what was a highly complex and politically sensitive issue. Although there were some senior people involved during the policy development stage – this fell away significantly almost as soon as the Prime Minister and the Treasurer launched the OzCar initiative in Sydney on Friday 5 December 2008.
My hours were very long and intense — both before and after the Christmas‐New Year period. The subject matter — establishing a financial trust arrangement — was also foreign to me and highly complex. I am not a lawyer.
I told my Deputy Secretary, Mr Jim Murphy, on at least 3 occasions from mid December 2008 to early January 2009 that the task was far too big for me to handle on my own and that there was much more to it than either he or Dr Ken Henry appeared to appreciate.
Although Mr Murphy undertook to me to look at options, nothing happened. I was allocated an EL1 for a short period in January 2007 but he soon left Treasury for Melbourne. The only practical help I got was in April 2009 when I was allocated an experienced EL1 officer on a part time basis to help me with the OzCar Guarantee Bill.
It is unfair for senior Treasury management to seek to absolve their responsibilities – including their duty of care to me – by simply saying that as an experienced SES Band 1 officer I could have asked for more help. The fact is that when the heat was on, I did – and management failed to deliver. The failure of senior Treasury management is perhaps best illustrated by the events of February 2009.
On Sunday 1 February 2009, I developed my 7th small bowel obstruction since March 2005. This resulted in me being off work for almost three weeks — and, in fact, I returned to work prematurely.
While I was away, nothing happened on OzCar — the project came to a complete stop. Yet the deadlines were that much closer and the situation facing Ford Credit in particular was becoming increasingly urgent. Also while I was away, senior Treasury management somehow found the resources – including an experienced SES Band 1 officer — to deal with the Australian Business Investment Partnership (ABIP) project. A team of around 5 people appeared to deal with this.
By contrast, I got no resources — despite the fact that OzCar was quite a high profile initiative of the Government and an important part of its overall policy response to the Global Financial Crisis.
I also take issue with what I understand to be the claim of senior Treasury management that they reduced my workload in February 2009 when my core task for almost my entire period in Treasury since October 2008 was OzCar — which did not change — and given the fact that I spent a large part of February 2009 either in hospital or recovering from my bowel obstruction.
I was hospitalised again in March 2009 to receive a bone infusion to deal with my metabolic bone disease. My adverse reaction to a drug prescribed to me in the course of that treatment kept me off work for another week. Again OzCar stopped entirely in my absence.
It was very well known to senior Treasury management — from Ken Henry down — that I was in very poor physical health and that I was prone to developing small bowel obstructions which are not only very painful, but can be very dangerous.
Senior Treasury management were well aware that I had had about 11 hospital admissions since I had my colon removed in September 2003. They knew that I suffer from an incurable and degenerative disease of the small bowel that has resulted in the frequent obstructions that strike without warning. Often it is no more than 4 hours from initial abdominal pain to severe pain requiring morphine treatment and the vomiting of bile.
Senior Treasury management were well aware that in late 2006, one of these obstructions resulted in an intestinal haemorrhage, septicaemia and acute renal failure. I was off work for four months after spending a month in The Canberra Hospital.
Unfortunately, I never fully recovered from this near fatal episode as I went on to develop both stage 3 chronic kidney disease and metabolic bone disease, including osteoporosis. I have had a further three obstructions since the 2006 episode and have been told by my doctors that I have exhausted my ‘insurance’. There is, I am advised, a significant risk that the next major episode will prove fatal. I live with this fear every day.
What senior Treasury management did not know — as I have only very recently discovered — was that I have also been suffering from chronic clinical depression for some years, dating back to at least 2003. This had not been treated.
My point is that senior Treasury management — knowing my fragility of health and having been reminded of it starkly both in February and March this year, made no effort to support me in any real practical sense. Essentially, they expected me, largely on my own in both a physically and mentally impaired state – to land a major public policy initiative as well as to deal with some sensitive and challenging dealer representations — such as those relating to John Grant and [Dealer 7].
It is unfair for senior Treasury management, as I read the position attributed to them in the proposed Report, to simply seek to wash their hands of their responsibilities.
The fact is that I worked as hard and as intensely as I could as I always had tried to do in my 20 year APS career, but the reality is that in 2008 and 2009 I lacked the energy, strength, stamina and overall capacity to function as I had prior to late 2006.
I had also often asked the Treasury procurement team for help in arranging the relevant contractual arrangements for service providers. Other than sending me blank pro‐forma of the relevant procurement material, they offered no practical assistance.
I am advised as to the following applicable legislative provisions:
- The Occupational Health and Safety Act 1991 makes it a non‐delegable duty that Treasury ‘take all reasonably practicable steps to protect the health and safety at work of [its] employees’: s. 16(1).
- The Workplace Relations Act 1996 (which applied at material times) provides that an employee must not be required or requested by an employer to work more than 38 hours per week plus “reasonable additional hours”.
My work on the Oz Car program required me to work between 75‐85 hours per week including on weekends from late October 2008 until the onset of my bowel obstruction in early February 2009. My hours varied from 60‐70 hours per week from late February to June 2009.