Did HR head make whistleblowers redundant?

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A fraudulent HR head who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from her employer may have made a number of employees redundant in order to silence their complaints – but the ministry refuses to find out.

Joanne Harrison – also known as Joanne Sharp – was the general manager of organisational development at the Ministry of Transport for three years before her misconduct was finally uncovered in a 2016 audit.

However, the audit wasn’t the first indication that Harrison was involved in unethical practices – in October 2015, three staff complained about her behaviour and just two months later all of them were made redundant.

Yesterday, Labour’s Sue Moroney spoke up during Parliament’s Question Time, calling on Transport Minister Simon Bridges to revisit the redundancies and find out if those employees were dismissed simply because they voiced their concerns.

"Will he order an investigation to ensure that staff who raised concerns about Joanne Harrison's financial transactions and were subsequently made redundant in a restructuring influenced by Joanne Harrison were treated fairly by his ministry?” asked Moroney.

Bridges, however, has refused to order an investigation.

“What is now very clear from public interviews, from the select committee ... and other documentary evidence as well is that the person in question here was not involved in the decision making process in the restructure,” he claims.

Moroney also asked how Harrison was able to secure a position in the ministry despite having a conviction for fraud in New Zealand while also being investigated for fraud in Australia.

“Very simple,” responded Bridges. “She was an incredibly manipulative, dishonest person who has now gone to jail for some time.

However, documents relating to the fraud reveal Harrison frequently signed deals with no contracts in place and exceeded her authorised spending limits. Former CEO Martin Matthews was repeatedly notified of this by both finance and legal teams but chose to give Harrison the benefit of the doubt.

Bridges admitted significant lessons were to be learned as a result but said he was “satisfied” that had already happened.

Before being caught, Harrison was able to steal $723,000 from the ministry – she was jailed for three and a half years in February.

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