During a two-day parliamentary inquiry in August, where opinions on the Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s (ASIC) performance were voiced by various stakeholders, the regulator’s former chairman, James Shipton, depicted a workplace marred by serious problems.
Sharing insights into the culture at ASIC and the impacts it had on his mental health, Mr Shipton told the inquiry on 23 August that he was in such despair he contemplated taking his own life as a direct result of an “abusive advertising campaign” launched against him by Clive Palmer, and the “fundamentally flawed” institutional response from ASIC and Treasury.
“From November 2020, I was subject to six months of intimidatory advertising attacking my character, competence, and integrity. This consisted of at least 43 prominent advertisements with eye-catching yellow background in leading newspapers. They were published by a defendant charged with offenses instigated by ASIC during my time,” Mr Shipton said.
“The advertisements were soul-destroying for me, my family, and my friends. They were relentless. They cut me to my core. And before I go on, I must say that all those allegations could not be further from the truth.”
Days after his parliamentary appearance, Mr Shipton wrote a letter to Treasurer Jim Chalmers to draw his attention to the statements he gave in Parliament, requesting that Treasury deliver the letter, electronically, to the minister. However, he received a response from a lawyer advising him to circumvent Treasury and contact Mr Chalmers directly.
Following this response, and an ensuing suggestion that he should contact a 1300 helpline when he pressed Treasury for at least Mr Chalmers’ email address, Mr Shipton has now issued an open letter to the Treasurer and the Assistant Treasurer dated Monday, 4 September.
In the letter, made available online by ABC News, and in reference to the response he earlier received from Treasury, Mr Shipton writes: “This response is, to say the least, unhelpful and factually incorrect”.
“My earlier letter did more than attach my statement to the Senate; I was directly seeking your assurance that these failures would be addressed, and future risks reduced,” he says.
“The issue I spoke to the Senate about is profoundly important. Preventative action needs to be taken to ensure my experience at ASIC is not repeated. I specifically warned Treasury against ‘walking past’ these incidents. I spoke some hard truths to the Senate about Treasury’s and ASIC’s failures. I did so because the mental health impacts of bullying are very real. They can cause human injury. They can be life threatening,” Mr Shipton continues.
While acknowledging that “these messages must have been tough for Treasury and ASIC to hear”, Mr Shipton disclosed that ASIC wrote to him “immediately”, while Treasury responded only using lawyers.
“It is totally irresponsible for Treasury to respond to such serious matters with a ‘tin-ear’. They need to put down the bureaucratic and legal barriers and learn from actual incidents.
“Regrettably, Treasury’s extraordinary response gives me zero-confidence they will take my warnings seriously. They are clearly not recognising that: (i) harmful behaviours in the workplace need to be quickly addressed; (ii) work, health, and safety laws need to be applied without delay; and (iii) protections need to be immediately adopted in response to intimidatory workplace behaviour.”
Considering “the serious nature of the issues and Treasury’s resistance”, Mr Shipton said he feels he must publicly call on the Treasurer and Assistant Treasurer to provide assurance, not just to him, but to “all serving law enforcement officers and other employees in the Treasury portfolio” that these failures will be addressed.
“Treasury’s responses also force me to ask the Treasurer and Assistant Treasurer to assure us that Treasury will address these issues with the seriousness they deserve.
“Whistle-blowers not only need to be listened to, they should be treated with sensitivity, dignity, and respect.
“Treasury must realise that the stakes are far too high for bureaucratic, legalistic, and obstructionist responses to truths putting the health and safety of their own people at risk,” Mr Shipton concluded.
As of Monday afternoon, Mr Chalmers and Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones have yet to address the letter publicly.
If you are suffering from depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, or you’re worried about someone else and feel that urgent professional support is needed, contact your local doctor or one of the 24/7 crisis agencies below:
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 www.beyondblue.org.au
Lifeline: 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
Maja's career in journalism spans well over a decade across finance, business and politics. Now an experienced editor and reporter across all elements of the financial services sector, prior to joining Momentum Media, Maja reported for several established news outlets in Southeast Europe, scrutinising key processes in post-conflict societies.