• 17 JUL 07
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    #763: How ABC managment “ran for cover” at Toowong (breast cancer cluster)

    ABC ran for cover

    Article from: The Courier-Mail

    By Des Houghton

    February 24, 2007 12:00am

    ABC management was in complete denial over the breast cancer crisis at its Toowong headquarters even after 11 women had been diagnosed with the illness, according to confidential documents obtained by The Courier-Mail.

    In a damning briefing note dated April 7, 2005, ABC chiefs attempted to wash their hands of the problem, saying: “It is not a workplace issue”.Other correspondence released under Freedom of Information shows the ABC seemed more concerned about the bad publicity the story was generating than it was in investigating the health of its staff.

    “It makes me feel sick,” said Jo-Anne Youngleson, now Jo-Anne Stone, one of the sufferers. “If they had done more testing earlier I could have been saved.”

    Mrs Stone, who has undergone a number of operations to remove cancers, was outraged by the disclosures.

    And she revealed she had been “shocked” by the treatment of cancer sufferers in their dealings with the ABC.

    “We went to meetings where we were very badly bullied,” she said from Tasmania, where she now lives.

    Despite the large number of cases, the ABC did not regard Toowong as a toxic workplace and for months declined to provide screening for women aged under 40.

    “The ABC declined these requests as there is no link between breast cancer and the workplace, and it is not a workplace issue,” said Colin Palmer, the ABC’s national director of human resources, in a confidential note.

    Mr Palmer also reported “the number of cases in Toowong was consistent with the incidence of breast cancer within the wider community”.

    This infuriated ABC journalists, who said yesterday it confirmed a widely held belief that the ABC had buried its head in the sand in the face of a major health crisis.

    ABC staff abandoned the Queensland headquarters at Toowong late last year after an independent panel of experts headed by Professor Bruce Armstrong found the breast cancer rate there was extraordinary ”“ up to 11 times higher than normal.

    Twelve women who worked at the riverside Toowong office have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past 11 years, including eight who worked in the newsroom.

    The documents uncovered by The Courier-Mail seem to confirm Deputy Premier Anna Bligh’s claims in Parliament this week that the ABC was “uncaring and verging on callousness” in its handling of the issue.

    Despite widespread alarm in the studio as the number of cases climbed, there was no record of a contingency plan to evacuate the site. And senior staff were denying the existence of a cluster.

    A memo dated April 2005 from the ABC’s state director of human resources Gary Crane was especially patronising: “Staff were advised that at present the best advice for women under 40 years of age is to regularly examine their breasts for changes and seek medical advice promptly if they are concerned.”

    Mr Crane referred to a Channel 9 television interview with Queensland state director of the ABC Chris Wordsworth and medical experts.

    In a private memo, Mr Crane said some doctors in Brisbane were “supportive of management’s view that the incidents of breast cancer in Toowong were not a result of an unhealthy workplace.”

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