The October 17 edition of The Age has a front page story about bullying and sexual harassment in the Country Fire Authority (CFA).
The article said: "Women working for the CFA have been sexually assaulted and harassed amid a culture of fear, bullying and impunity, according to a leaked internal report whose existence has been a tightly held secret until now."
The report is based on a survey of professional, technical and administrative staff employed by the CFA. The survey, conducted in May–June last year, appears to show that bullying and sexism are widespread in the CFA.
While acknowledging the role of poor management in creating these problems, the report tries to shift part of the blame onto the United Firefighters Union (UFU).
Some of the respondents to the survey complained of bullying and harassment by operational staff (firefighters). Since nearly all professional firefighters are UFU members, some respondents blamed the UFU for supposedly preventing disciplinary action against the offenders.
This theme was highlighted in The Age. Accusations against the UFU appear on the front page of the paper, while the union's response is buried in a single sentence on page 6: "In a statement, the union's lawyers said on Monday that the UFU denied it had contributed to poor workplace practices and that claims it supported bullying or harassment were baseless and part of a concerted media campaign."
The UFU statement pointed out that the union has initiated or supported measures to increase diversity in the fire services, but The Age did not mention this.
The UFU statement also drew attention to flaws in the way the survey was conducted, including that people could fill it in multiple times, and there was no check that respondents were actually CFA employees. The union expressed a willingness to support a properly conducted enquiry.