Struggling, cash-strapped Netsafe faces ruling over human rights abuses
The online bullying organization is grappling with employment lawsuits, a big financial loss – and now a court ruling on whether it breached the privacy of three women.
The new head of online safety regulator Netsafe faces a staggering array of legal and financial crises from the agency.
Brent Carey has been named head of a state-funded organization that has been plagued by complaints of intimidation, mismanagement and reckless disregard for the rights of those it is meant to protect.
The organization depends for almost all of its $4 million revenue on major contracts with the Departments of Education and Justice. But in an all-staff bulletin this month, previewed by Newsroom, acting chief executive Andrea Leask said Netsafe expects to suffer “significant financial loss” this year.
Much of the cost explosion is understood as the cost of job applications and legal fees:
► The Human Rights Review Tribunal is set to rule on a complaint from three women who alleged that Netsafe breached their privacy;
► an Employment Relations Authority hearing into a complaint against management is scheduled for June;
► A manager under investigation for her treatment of co-workers remains on staff, and on leave, more than three months later.
Longtime chief executive Martin Cocker was investigated over allegations of workplace bullying when he suddenly resigned in mid-November, effective December 3. manager Angela Boundy.
Associated costs, including the three investigations into multiple internal complaints or counter-complaints involving the couple, reportedly approached $500,000 in December, when Cocker left and Boundy went on leave.
“Despite achieving cost savings throughout the year as opportunities presented themselves, the loss increased rather than decreased,” Leask said. “Netsafe cannot sustain losses for consecutive years. Therefore, we must consider alternatives to bring Netsafe back to a balanced position in the coming years.”
“How much of the public money that has been given has, ironically, been used to investigate bullying within Netsafe rather than in New Zealand.”
– David Seymour, Act Party
In an interview with Newsroom, Leask confirmed that Boundy remains on leave and expects her to return to work in due course.
When asked how long Boundy could be on leave, Leask declined to say. “It’s part of his personal information that I wouldn’t divulge.”
It is believed that Netsafe has now retained the services of high-flying public relations agency Boyd PR to deal with the public fallout from some of these disputes.
It was amid these challenges that Carey was appointed this week to lead the agency, which is hired to run education campaigns about online bullying and enforce the Harmful Digital Communications Act. Carey said, “Netsafe is an iconic Kiwi organization and I’m thrilled to help it grow.”
But in fact, it shrinks. There have been several resignations. And following the financial difficulties, Netsafe consulted staff this month on the closure of its policy and research unit, with the consequent employment consequences.
Chief of Law David Seymour previously told Newsroom: ‘There is also a question of how much of the public money that has been paid out has, ironically, been used to investigate bullying within Netsafe rather than New Zealand.”
Today, he expressed his continuing concern. “As the government considers hate speech laws, this sad saga serves as a timely warning about who enforced them. Imagine an agency with this kind of culture that judges whether your speech is acceptable. »
Carey is stepping down as New Zealand’s Domain Names Commissioner. Netsafe’s new chairman of the board, Fletcher ICT boss Colin James, said Carey’s background made him the ideal chief executive to secure Netsafe’s position as a “trusted source of leadership and best practices” for online security.
Last night, Leask, the acting chief executive, released a written statement in response to questions from the newsroom:
“Employer/employee confidentiality prevents Netsafe from commenting on employment matters that affect team members,” she said.
“We are unable to share financial information at this time as several initiatives are underway which need to be completed before we are able to do so.
“Netsafe will provide a statement regarding the finding of the Human Rights Review Tribunal, once it is made public.”