Respect, the Census and unfair dismissal

Ali G: R.E.S.T.E.C.P! Do ya even know wha it spellz?
Cabinet M.P.: Restecp?
Ali G: Yes, Restecp.
‘Owz anyone out there meant to restecp each otha?
If you lot in ‘ere, don’t even start restecpa-ing one another.

British comedian, Ali G on RESPECT

Every five years the Australian Bureau of Statistics conducts a census of Population and Housing. This year, 2011, marks 100 years of national Census taking in Australia.

I am reminded of the 2007 census after I had been sacked from the public service where I had worked for 22 years.

One day I was travelling from Brisbane CBD on a bus after meeting up with some old work mates and friends. A man jumped on my bus. I recognised him as the Assistant Deputy Commissioner who had sacked me under the APS Code of Conduct. This manager told the Australian Industrial Relations Tribunal that I had not ‘treated (managers in the workplace) with respect and courtesy, and without harassment’ by circulating this Dilbert cartoon (shown). They had been after me for years, I was a rank and file union activist involved in stopping three call centre workers from being shafted.

The same boss walked down the aisle of the bus and sat in the seat facing me.

I do not know if he saw me first. He may not have.

He was sitting so close that I felt obliged to speak to him. I noticed that he had alchol on his breath.

I our brief conversation he told me that he had lunched at the Irish Club with some golfing mates.

After several minutes of strained words  my former boss told me that he had retired from his Assistant Commissioner’s job but recently worked casually as a Area Supervisor for the Australian Bureau of Statistics on the (2006) census. His job was to manage the Collectors undertaking the delivery and collection of Census forms

He volunteered that he had noticed that I lived in ‘his’ area.

My former boss then made a bizarre admission especially given that he would have to have signed an oath of fidelity under the  section 7 of the Census and Statistics Act 1905 —

Every officer executing any power or duty conferred or imposed on any officer under this Act or the regulations, shall, before entering upon his or her duties or exercising any power under this Act, sign, in the presence of a witness, an undertaking of fidelity and secrecy in accordance with the prescribed form.

“I checked up on your census form to make sure you filled it out. I saw that you did.” he said.

This admission floored me.  I sat there speechless. My former boss had just admitted to me that he had flaunted the privacy rules of the Census by accessing private information I had disclosed on my census form to check up on me. Perhaps he had the power to do this. But where is the respect to a former employee? We could have had visitors at our house that night who would be obliged to reveal their details. I should have said something. But I couldn’t.

My stop came up. I just got off the bus. My hands were shaking.

I had been interviewed, interrogated, harrassed, demoted, charged, sacked, marched from my desk by security guards, and been through a long courtcase that became the definitive case on ‘Respect’ for the Australian Public Service.

Now a boss had just told me that he had looked up my census file, my partner’s and anyone else who happened to be staying at our place that night.

It is probably a total coincidence but I too was looking for work in 2006.

I applied for a job as a census collector in my area.

I never got the job.

Union involvement in unfair dismissal
The CPSU organiser, Michael Hogan, told management how to go about sacking me. Also the CPSU delegate at ATO Chermside, Steve Iselin, assisted in my removal from the workplace by force. Steve Iselin marches every year on May Day with the CPSU contingent.

The union sent another delegate, Lloyd Zischke, to the Industrial Relations hearing but the union took no active role in supporting me. I hired my own lawyers to act as support in meetings with the ATO and to represent me at the hearing which lasted about a week with about 16 witnesses – 4 workers and about 12 bosses and HR people.

I had been a member of the Community & Public Sector Union since 1982 (then called the ACOA). My aim in 2003 as a rank and file union member was to assist other union members who had been unfairly dismissed. I assisted a number of my fellow workers as a support person and reserved the right to record those meetings.

After I was dismissed from the Australian Public Service I assisted a number of people who had been unfairly dismissed. In one caseI helped Ms Walsh win her unfair dismissal case. In  Walsh v Australian Taxation Office Australian Industrial Relations Commission, 4 March 2005 Full Bench, PR 956205:

Commissioner Eames found that the termination was harsh because, amongst other things, it was disproportionate to the gravity of Ms Walsh’s misconduct. This finding was triggered by the fact that in making its decision to terminate Ms Walsh’s employment, the ATO had not complied with its own policies and procedures
and had taken into account a record of previous misconduct by Ms Walsh that should have been removed from her file.

Ian Curr
16 Feb 2011


Curr v Australian Taxation Office, U2004/3067 PR953053, 8 November 2004

Relevant AIRC Decisions — “provides useful guidance on the standard of respect and courtesy that applies under the Code. The Australian Industrial Relations Tribunal (AIRC) held that the correct standard is the ‘general community standard’ and emphasised the importance of the context and circumstances of the conduct.” — ATO Human Resources department.

Dilbert got me a pink slip

Ali G: R.E.S.T.E.C.P! Do ya even know wha it spellz?
Cabinet M.P.: Restecp?
Ali G: Yes, Restecp. ‘Owz anyone out there meant to restecp each otha? If you lot in ‘ere, don’t even start restecpa-ing one another.

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