Caged, isolated, scared: Why Perth Department of Communities director general tells staff to avoid talking to media in wake of raid outrage
The director-general of the scandal-hit Department of Communities has warned staff not to talk to media and to keep “all information” confidential.
It comes amid outrage over a police raid that tried to find the source of leaks to The West Australian detailing allegations of racism in the department.
Mike Rowe sent an email to all staff on Monday defending the department’s police complaint in which he told staff to contact their managers if the media reached out to them.
“As public servants we have access to all sorts of information that is not otherwise in the public domain. All information obtained during the course of your employment, not just information relating to our children, families and partners, must be maintained with utmost security and care. It must be treated in a way that maintains confidentiality . . .information can only be released upon appropriate approval or authorisation,” he wrote.
“A reminder that should a member of the media contact you, you can only speak to them with the prior approval of corporate communications. If you are contacted, inform your line manage as soon as possible.”
On Saturday, The West revealed how police had stormed the home of an Aboriginal woman who works for the department. The raid was an attempt to find out how this newspaper obtained internal documents that highlighted issues of racism and dysfunction within Communities.
These documents include a report by psychologist Dr Tracy Westerman on racism in the department and a follow-up report by PWC Indigenous. Both have been made public following The West’s reporting.
This newspaper has also reported on a critical priorities document which revealed the department was failing to meet KPIs including those relating to child safety investigations.
In his email, Mr Rowe claimed thousands of documents had potentially been compromised and Communities had no choice but to act.
“Communities is not responsible for the carriage of police investigations. How information is obtained during investigations and in turn how it informs operational decisions are matters solely for the WA Police. Suggestions that somehow the Department of Communities ‘directed’ the police to investigate is simply inaccurate,” Mr Rowe said.
He claimed he took the findings of Dr Westerman’s report seriously and would “continue to drive change to improve our cultural competency”.
He said the department’s leadership team would be giving an all-staff broadcast to talk to them about the matter.
Mark McGowan and Simone McGurk have both attempted to distance themselves from a police raid.
On Tuesday, Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said 10 officers had participated in the raid, as opposed to the 11 officers The West was told were present.
Asked what crime was being investigated, Mr Dawson would not say.
“I was advised of some possible criminal matters. It is still an open investigation, we are getting advice for the Director of Public Prosecutions,” he told the ABC.
He said police did not have choice to not investigate because something might be controversial or subject to scrutiny, but he also said he wanted to see the investigation concluded as soon as possible.