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Bullying claim against Victim Support boss

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An organisation established to defend victims of violence and intimidation is embroiled in allegations of workplace bullying by its own chief executive, with the Opposition asking the Auditor-General to investigate the state’s Victim Support Service.

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The Victim Support Service (VSS) today confirmed to InDaily, in response to a question about workers compensation claims alleging bullying behaviour by chief executive Julian Roffe, that a Return to Work claim had been “accepted”.

Questions were raised in parliament in recent days, with Liberal deputy leader Vickie Chapman asking Attorney-General John Rau how many workers compensation or industrial tribunal claims are pending by VSS managers “that include allegations of bullying by the chief executive, Julian Roffe”.

Rau said at the time he did not have the information “at [his] fingertips” but “can make such inquiries as might be necessary and try to find that out”.

He said he had received no briefings on the matter by the chair of the VSS board, Jayne Stinson.

Stinson, a former Channel 7 journalist, is Labor’s candidate for the marginal seat of Badcoe, while another ALP candidate, Jo Chapley, is also on the VSS board.

In a subsequent statement to InDaily, Rau said while he had not been informed of any bullying allegations regarding the VSS, “the funding agreement the VSS has with the Attorney-General’s Department does not require such allegations to be reported to me or my department”.

“Any workplace bullying allegations should be reported to Safework SA or Fair Work Australia,” he said.

The VSS is an independent not-for-profit substantially funded by the State Government through its Victims of Crime fund.

InDaily can reveal the Opposition has since written to Auditor-General Andrew Richardson raising questions of “probity” and requesting an investigation.

“Should any maladministration or misconduct be identified I trust you will forward it to the relevant authorities,” Chapman writes in the letter, which has been seen by InDaily.

Chapman tells the Auditor-General she has been informed that “two managers are currently on leave and have pending workers compensation claims alleging bullying by [Roffe]”.

“I understand further that one of these claims has recently settled in favour of the employee and these cases will take their usual course,” she writes.

Chapman also suggests the VSS received a $350,000 annual grant to establish a Women’s Domestic Violence Court Assistance Service and last year was given an extra $350,000 to support the service, requesting the Auditor-General investigate the application of those public funds and whether any monies had been diverted from the unit to pay administration costs.

Initial inquiries about the bullying allegations made by InDaily to VSS were met with a one-line statement, which said: “Under legislation we are unable to provide details on staff employment matters.”

However, after subsequent questions to Roffe and Stinson detailing the issues raised in the letter to the Auditor-General, the organisation confirmed that “all Return to Work SA claims have been determined [and] one has been accepted”.

“The other claim was rejected,” the VSS said in a written response.

“Unfortunately, under law, we cannot disclose further details about individual staff claims.”

Asked whether funds had been diverted from the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Assistance Service to pay administration costs, the VSS responded: “As is standard practice at NFPs and commercial operations, a portion of project funding is allocated to cover the administration costs of that project, eg office space, payroll, IT, marketing.”

“The [Women’s Domestic Violence Court Assistance Service] is fully compliant with the terms of its funding agreement and standard accounting practices,” it said.

Roffe, who is understood to be a White Ribbon ambassador, has previously called for specific domestic violence laws to be introduced into parliament, arguing such an offence should also take into account psychological, verbal or emotional abuse.

“It would put it out to the community that family and domestic violence is a far broader issue than just physical and sexual assault,” Roffe told the ABC in 2015.

“It’s important that all of those behaviours are seen as criminal.”

The Auditor-General has not responded to a request for comment.

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