This is yet another example of the inadequacy of our government departments investigating themselves. It is yet another example of who the State would be best served with a truly independent watchdog to monitor the conduct of our public authorities.
In this case the department is the Public Trustee, responsible for the financial and physical welfare of thousands of South Australians, many of whom are the elderly, disabled and otherwise vulnerable. Public Trustee "insiders" John Oliver and Rob McKibbon came to Today Tonight to blow the whistle on issues they have been raising for years. Both men originally came from the commercial sector and say they encountered a culture of bullying and harassment, made worse by their efforts to point out short comings in the procedures and processes used by the Public Trustee.
John Oliver conducted his own review of one hundred files at random and discovered over a 90% error rate. Some matters were minor but others like purchasing a car for someone who could not drive, having two insurance policies on one car and none on another or insuring the home of a client at one address and the contents of their house at another clearly put the clients' finances at risk. Furthermore he found senior staff had little idea of how to review the financial statements of clients in an effective way.
Rob McKibbon's experience of harassment and bullying led to a confidential settlement and him being more or less left in career limbo for the past two years. Rob worked in the IT section and says there were multi-million dollar budget blow outs on a new computer system which in the end didn't serve the purpose for which it was purchased. He also says the stories of mismanagement and inefficiencies are rife.
In addition clients and the families tell stories of delays, belligerence, financial mismanagement and being excluded from the lives of their loved ones who have come under the "protection" of the Public Trustee.
The Public Trustee comes under the umbrella of the Attorney General Michael Atkinson who last year claimed to be unaware of an internal inquiry into some of the claims raised by John, Rob and other employees. This inquiry coincided with the departure of the previous Public Trustee and her most senior executive. The Government Investigation Unit inquiries are not open to the public and the results of these hearings are not made public. While a disciplinary matter is being adjudicated the Government told Today Tonight they know of no other outstanding issues facing the Public Trustee.
Independent MLC Ann Bressington has helped establish a Parliamentary Select Committee Inquiry into the Office of the Public Trustee which will commence hearings shortly. Anyone wishing to make a submission can write to:
The Statutory Authorities Review Committee
North Terrace SA 5000
Re Inquiry into The Office of the Public Trustee