WA Department of Communities had police raid public servants home over leaks exposing racism, abuse

The WA Department of Communities had 11 police officers — including some who were armed — raid the home of one of their own Aboriginal employees while their young child was present, in an attempt to uncover who leaked documents which exposed racism within the organisation.

 Director General, Mike Rowe - Department of Communities (Left) & Hon Simone McGurk, Minister for Child Protection (Right).

The West Australian has confirmed police last week raided the home of one of Communities’ own staff members in an attempt to find out how this website obtained internal documents which exposed the mistreatment of Aboriginal staff within the department.

Some of these documents have now been made public as a result of the paper’s reporting.

A witness said there were about 11 police officers at the home at one point and the raid occurred in front of the woman’s husband and young child.

The raid has been slammed as further evidence of a toxic culture within the Department of Communities, and an attempt to intimidate.

The West has published a continuing series of stories about dysfunction within the department since the start of this year. This has included stories on a report by psychologist Dr Tracy Westerman which exposed “wide-scale racism” within Communities that was so bad there was a perception Indigenous staff were of “less value”.

The West also revealed a report from PWC Indigenous which said there were concerns Dr Westerman’s recommendations for change had not been implemented.

It warned there was a “level of bias and racism, both systemic and overt, within the department” that was making Aboriginal staff feel unheard.

Both of these reports were released online by Communities after The West’s stories on them.

Other stories published in The West’s series included revelations an internal “critical priorities” report showed the department was failing to meet crucial targets, including those relating to child safety investigations.

A person who witnessed the raid said the family had been visibly distressed. They had witnessed the husband leaving the home with the child and an elderly woman after the raid started.

They said initially about four police had turned up to the home. The police were all wearing vests and were armed.

“It was in the early hours of the morning, about 6am. There was multiple unmarked police cars in front of the house ... then later a white police van showed up with more police,” they said.

Asked about the raid on Friday, WA Police would not say what alleged crime was being investigated but confirmed no one had been charged.

Police also confirmed it was Communities who had made the complaint to them.

Asked what knowledge Police Commissioner Chris Dawson had of the raid, police said he was “aware of a complaint and of a person under investigation, but not the specifics of the investigation. In relation to the search warrant, no authorisation was required or approved by the Commissioner”.

“WA Police have responded to a complaint of alleged criminal conduct. Police are not investigating journalists in relation to this matter. No person has been charged at this time and the matter remains under investigation,” a police spokesperson said.

When asked if the raid was reflective of a lack of transparency from the McGowan Government and an attempt to stop scrutiny, a spokesperson for Premier Mark McGowan said “the Premier will not intervene or involve himself in active WA Police criminal investigations”.

Minister for Community Services Simone McGurk also declined to answer questions about her knowledge of the raid or whether she supported it.

“As minister, it is inappropriate to involve myself in operational matters regarding departmental staff. Queries on police matters should be directed to WA Police,” she said.

A spokesperson for Police Minister Paul Papalia also claimed it was an operational matter. “The minister had no knowledge of this matter until it was raised with him by The West. The minister has not subsequently sought or received a briefing from Western Australia Police on the matter, as is appropriate,” they said.

Asked if the fact Communities had complained to police about leaks that exposed racism was further evidence of dysfunction within the department, director-general Mike Rowe said they were “assisting the WA Police Force with an investigation” and “it is not appropriate for the department to comment on an ongoing police investigation”.

“Communities does not tolerate racism in any form,” he said.

“While there is much work to be done to improve outcomes for Aboriginal families, Communities is proud of the significant work undertaken in recent years to deliver better outcomes for Aboriginal people and to ensure Aboriginal people are included in shaping policy.”

Communities is a “super department” created by the McGowan Government in 2017 when it merged the former departments of Child Protection and Housing.

It is meant to be responsible for the most vulnerable children in the State, but has been marred by scandal in recent years including the conviction of its former executive Paul Whyte who was sentenced to 12 years jail after stealing $27 million from the State.

Both Dr Westerman and shadow police minister Peter Collier slammed the raid as an act of intimidation.

Dr Westerman said she was “concerned for the welfare of the worker involved who is innocent until proven guilty”.

“If the report was leaked by an employee it should be recognised that those who leak information in the public interest — in this case to protect Aboriginal children — deserve protection,” she said. “It speaks to a system in crisis. You do not have internal reports leaked to the press in the first place unless the system is in crisis. It highlights the desperation of a department that apparently wants to hide the truth and not fix a toxic culture.

“To expose endemic racism is in the public interest. My report was in the public interest. It sends a terrible message to child protection workers that put the interests of our most vulnerable children first.

“It appears to be designed to intimidate them from coming forward. It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that this is what the intention has been. To send that message.”

She said the raid sent a message to other Aboriginal people that “if you raise racism in the system, we will not only deny and bury that narrative but your career will also be under threat”. “The wellbeing of your family will be under threat. I am shocked and horrified by this turn of events which sadly continues to simply confirm the veracity of my findings,” she said.

Mr Collier described the raid as “wrong on so many levels,” saying it was a waste of police resources and if the Government was going to send police to investigate every leak they would need to treble the size of the force.

“I have got the greatest respect for the police force, but this is a culture coming from the top down ... from a Government that is absolutely obsessed with secrecy, and absolutely petrified of the truth,” he said.

“There are some serious issues with the Department of Communities which deals with some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in the community. We are hearing stories of despair — this needs to be revealed.

“Never in a million years would I as a minister have endorsed the police going around to someone’s home (over this) ... that’s a sad reflection of the Government, but at the same time that puts police in a very invidious position.”

This story and its contents have been taken from The West Australian Newspaper you can read the original and first published article by clicking here.

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