Whistleblowing Women

Australian women who blow the whistle on corruption in their workplaces.

Sally McDow : a Whistleblowing Woman at Origin Energy.

In a statement of claim filed with the Federal Court, Sally McDow, former Origin Energy compliance manager, said -

 

In August 2013, soon after she had been promoted to "upstream compliance manager",  the Origin Energy audit team started a review of the upstream division, which runs its oil and gas fields.

In December 2013 the internal audit report was completed.

"Numerous issues" were identified.

The audit report gave the company's upstream gas and oil division the second worst grade possible.

The report found the division failed to comply with half of the 12 requirements of the Australian Standard governing compliance and seven out of nine of Origin's internal regulatory compliance rules.

As a result, Origin failed to record regulatory breaches at oil and gas fields across Australia and New Zealand in its database system or to report them to regulators, Ms McDow alleges.

Allegedly unrecorded issues included the "failure to maintain, or to properly maintain, the integrity of Origin gas wells", causing leaks, "including discharge of oil into aquifers "at the company's wells in Queensland's Surat Basin - a formation that is part of the crucial Great Artesian Basin that supplies fresh water to farmers across vast areas of Queensland, NSW and the Northern Territory.

By April 2015 the issues had still not been fixed.

On 17 April 2015 Ms McDow alleges that she warned her manager Anne Syvret, a former media adviser to Labor premier Peter Beattie,  and Origin's general manager of health and safety, Peter Hobart, that upstream compliance was "likely to be again be rated 'Unsatisfactory'  in a briefing emailed to the two executives.

Ms McDow said she provided Ms Syvret, Mr Hobart and Origin's general manager of gas engineering, Peter Warda, with a spreadsheet that set out work done to fix problems since December 2013 and "identified numerous issues that remained unrectified".

Ms McDow alleges that Anne Syvret put pressure on her to water down the spreadsheet by using a version supplied by Mr Warda in which details of noncompliance had been deleted and risk ratings reduced "from orange, which indicated a very high level of risk, to green, which indicated a very low level of risk".

Ms McDow claims she resisted changing the spreadsheet because doing so would have been "misleading and dishonest" and instead compromised by asking to be taken off the audit and sending Ms Syvret a version that hid, but did not remove, the offending columns.

On 1 May 2015  this allegedly earned Ms McDow a blast from a "visibly angry" Ms Syvret at a meeting in Origin's lobby cafe.

"I cannot have a staff member that does not follow instructions," Ms Syvret allegedly told Ms McDow.

Ms McDow alleges that Ms Syvret began monitoring how long she took in the bathroom, asked why she needed a drink of water, yelled, swore and slammed books on her desk while looking at Ms McDow.

The bullying allegedly caused Ms McDow "stress, anxiety and depression".

In May 2015 Ms McDow took sick leave.

Origin Energy hired consultants Work Logic to investigate Ms McDow's allegations against Ms Syvret.

Work Logic did not uphold Ms McDow's complaint.

On 3 July 2015 Ms McDow was ordered to return to work under Ms Syvret.

On 6 July 2015 Ms McDow emailed Mr Cairns (it is not clear who he is) with her concerns about "upstream's ongoing practice of failing to report material noncompliance issues", Ms Syvret's order to cover up the problem and Origin's mismanagement of the investigation.

On 7 July 2015 she was allegedly warned by Origin's general counsel and company secretary, Andrew Clarke, "she would not be afforded any confidentiality and 'everyone' would know about it" and she would be attacked by senior managers implicated in her complaint.

She was told not to return to work till 10 July.

On 10 July she was told her complaints would be investigated by big four accounting firm Ernst & Young.

In August 2015 Origin announced it would shed 800 jobs as part of a cost-cutting effort.

On 20 October 2015, Origin made Ms McDow redundant.

Ms McDow claims this was "not a genuine redundancy" because "another individual has been employed to perform a role of the same name".


Whistleblowers who call out corporate corruption in America receive government payouts, but those in Australia face unemployment and an uncertain future.

Corporate Australia is littered with whistleblowers who have taken enormous risks to speak out but ended up as collateral damage.


Sally McDow was a lawyer with 17 years' experience in senior compliance roles, working on international investigations and policy developments related to money laundering (Enron, organised crime and Christopher Skase), corruption and bribery, ethics and employee codes of conduct.

Now Ms McDow claims she is unable to get a suitable job.

In October 2015, she alleges she applied for a job with an ASX-listed financial institution and was told the culture fit would not be right for "someone with her whistleblowing history".

She alleges she had not told the company about the events at Origin. 

She alleges that a recruitment company advised her that she was not employable in Brisbane due to her "known" status as a whistleblower and that she should change her name or move to another country.


Ms McDow alleges she has periods when she alleges she has been too stressed to leave the house and personal relationships have been negatively impacted.

She alleges Origin management told staff she was being investigated and "made stuff up", "is going to make us lose our jobs", "is having a mental breakdown and calling it stress leave" and "is a faker and wants to hurt us".


An Origin spokeswoman said there was "no known oil leak to an aquifer in the Surat fields".

The Ernst & Young investigation was one of three that "did not substantiate Ms McDow's allegations".

The company "operates its assets in a safe and responsible way" and "will vigorously defend the claims in court, including those regarding Anne Syvret".

 

On 3 February 2016 a case management meeting will be held in Melbourne before judge Tony North.


Ms McDow's statement of claim alleges Origin is a company with serious compliance failures at its gas and oilfields, it has a culture of leaks, spills and explosions, and victimises and intimidates anyone who dares to speak out.

McDow alleges executives right up to the top, including former chief executive Grant King, who is now president of the Business Council of Australia, covered up some of the compliance failures, some of which were serious and should have been reported to the regulators and the ASX.

McDow alleges that she is not the only whistleblower to raise compliance concerns inside Origin.


Origin Whistleblowing Woman 2, allegedly a field, health, safety operations and maintenance officer, told McDow she had reported on November 5, 2012 to senior executives a culture of cover-up at APLNG sites and a lack of compliance and mandatory standards, rules and legislative obligations relating to safety.

Alleged harassment and victimisation forced Origin Whistleblowing Woman2 to leave in early 2013.


Origin Whistleblowing Woman 3, allegedly a pipelines supervisor on the APLNG project, lodged a whistleblower report in mid 2013, outlining a series of concerns that the pipelines were "continuing to be operated, despite a lack of preventative maintenance which should have been reported to regulators and which could result in an increased risk of pipeline asset failure".

Alleged victimisation resulted in her departure in 2014.


A number of others, who spoke up about inappropriate conduct, allegedly left the company.

 


Chilling tale of Origin Energy whistleblower,  Adele Ferguson, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 January 2017

Whistleblower sacked in Origin Energy cover-up, court told, Ben Butler, The Australian, 31 December 2015

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