An investigation by the Crime and Corruption Commission has found the Queensland Police Service (QPS) engaged in discriminatory recruitment practices over nearly three years when it was attempting to address the low number of women within the service.
The CCC’s latest report, tabled on Wednesday, has detailed ‘ample evidence’ of discriminatory recruitment practices to achieve a 50% female recruitment target between December 2015 and October 2018.
“What started as a nobly intended strategy was poorly communicated to front line staff who were tasked with its implementation and discriminatory practices were implemented to achieve its goal. Those practices were hidden by misleading information and spin and senior executives blindly accepted the spin and did not enquire further,” the CCC concluded.
The report noted that the then police commissioner set the target in late 2015 — when there were only about 26% female sworn police officers in the QPS — during a ‘surprise announcement’ to staff in the QPS Recruiting Section.
“There was ambiguity about whether the then commissioner had directed staff to ensure 50% of recruits were female, or whether this was an ‘aspirational’ target with a recognition that it may not be met,” the report said.
“Warnings by staff about the need to discriminate based on gender to achieve the target and the risks that followed were not communicated to the then commissioner and senior QPS staff.”
According to the CCC, females were at times recruited over male applicants who had ‘performed to a higher standard across entry assessments’ to achieve the target.
The corruption watchdog also found cases of staff lowering the cognitive assessment standard for female applicants, allowing female applicants who had failed aspects of the physical assessment to progress, and allowing female applicants who had previously been assessed as not suitable on psychological grounds to progress.
The CCC said discriminatory assessment practices prevented roughly 2,000 male applicants from progressing through the recruitment process over an 18-month period.
“If the various discriminatory practices had not been implemented, the CCC estimates approximately 200 more meritorious male applicants would have been successful in their attempt to join the QPS,” it said.
Read more: AFP sets 30% sworn-female workforce target
The investigation uncovered dodgy reporting practices, with staff and management in the QPS Recruiting Section often giving ‘evasive, misleading’ information.
“There was a lack of honest reporting to a host of audiences, both internal and external to the QPS. Managers and staff of the QPS Recruiting Section consistently used inaccurate and misleading ‘spin’ in their reporting to senior management that, when viewed objectively, supports the conclusion that this was designed to hide the use of discriminatory practices,” the report said.
“The senior executive of the QPS were unwavering in their support of, and determination to achieve, 50% female recruitment, with senior QPS executives never seeking appropriate clarification on the meaning of the spin used. There was no impetus shown to investigate concerns or complaints about discriminatory recruitment practices.”
CCC chair Alan MacSporran said the entire Queensland public sector should take note of the lessons from this investigation, which involved organisational culture and corruption risks.
“It is about how messages from the executive leadership are communicated, understood, acted and reported on within an agency. It is also about how staff may know that there is something wrong, but have become accustomed to following their leader’s instructions rather than asking uncomfortable questions. Such a culture clearly opens up an organisation to risk, particularly the risk of corruption,” he said in a statement.
“This report is important for the public sector because this type of conduct could happen in any agency. I encourage all public sector executives and Queensland’s public servants to read the report, and especially consider the larger questions this report poses about organisational integrity.”
MacSporran said the intention of the recruitment strategy was ‘admirable’, but was challenging for the organisation in reality.
“The evidence clearly shows that staff and management in the QPS Recruiting Section knew that discriminatory practices were used to achieve the 50% female recruitment target,” he said.
“Among the executive, no one appears to have given any serious thought to — or asked any critical questions about — a strategy that would affect the whole organisation for years to come.”
The CCC has made recommendations to the QPS to ensure the discriminatory practices don’t continue, including ensuring work-based targets are reasonable and attainable, and engaging the Queensland Human Rights Commission about the need to increase diversity in the QPS. The CCC said it was satisfied with the QPS’ work to address the recommendations.
The corruption watchdog plans to take action in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal against one or more people, seeking a finding of corrupt conduct. The CCC has also recommended the QPS take disciplinary action against other persons.