Civil Aviation Authority chair Nigel Gould in Phil Twyford's sights over response to sexual harassment complaints

The Transport Minister has criticised the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) chairman for questioning the motives of staff who went public with sexual harassment and bullying claims.

There are now calls from industry leaders for a complete overhaul of the CAA's management.

Chairman Nigel Gould has insisted culture is improving at the CAA.

"I'm telling you, we're on track and going well," he says.

That's despite multiple current and former staff blowing the whistle on serious complaints of bullying and sexual harassment being "covered up". They say staff don't have faith in raising concerns with managers.

But Gould said he's "not sure" this shows a problem in CAA's systems.

"I don't know what the motive is for some of these people," he told Newshub. "You've got to ask what their motive is in going public the way they are through you."

Aviation New Zealand represents the interests of the commercial aviation community and says victim-blaming is not okay.

"I would not think in 2019 New Zealand, it's appropriate to shift the blame onto the people that are making the complaints. I just find that unacceptable," CEO John Nicholson says.

And Transport Minister Phil Twyford agrees.

"I think those comments were ill-judged and I'll be telling Nigel Gould that today."

However, when asked if Gould should resign, Twyford thought that would "probably be a step too far".

Transport Minister Phil Twyford.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford. Photo credit: Newshub

But at Aviation New Zealand's conference today, questions were raised about exactly that - leadership.

"A number of concerns have been raised about CAA historically. But nothing seems to change," Nicholson says.

"So it would suggest that there's time for some refreshing of that leadership team."

In terms of the chairman's confusion about Newshub's informants' motives, an internal leadership questionnaire from February 22 this year may help explain. Staff stated:

  • "They don't trust the process and won't speak up."
  • "Managers screw up whole units for months or years and nothing happens."
  • "It seems like the leadership team is missing in action."

The CAA - and its leadership - is in the sights of the industry and its political masters.

"Any concerns by anyone in the CAA who wishes to raise cultural issues, they should feel like they are able to come forward, particularly to the Ministry of Transport," Prime Minister Jacinda Adern says.

Newshub did try to contact Gould on Tuesday to get his response to these comments, but as yet he hasn't responded.

One person who did answer our calls was Workplace Issues investigator Jaydene Buckley, a former police officer and consultant for OSACO Group.

She says it's "quite astounding that the most senior member of the governing body of a Crown entity that is empowered to oversee aviation safety would make a statement that can be perceived as victim-blaming."

She says it has no place in today's world and that Gould's comments "could perpetuate any damage caused by sexual harassment".

Twyford has already announced an investigation into culture at the CAA, as a result of Newshub Investigations Reporter Michael Morrah's 'Because It Matters' investigation.

But on Tuesday there was an important development. Twyford said he's "directed the Ministry to engage independent, external expertise" as part of the inquiry.

And the Ministry of Transport told Newshub the investigation is being prioritised.

"In light of recent allegations of bullying and harassment at the Civil Aviation Authority, we have been directed by the Minister to conduct an investigation of the organisational culture at the authority," governance and commercial manager Ngaire Best told Newshub.

"The Ministry will lead the investigation and will appoint external specialists to assist in the relevant focus areas.

"The terms of reference are currently being finalised, however during the course of the investigation, we propose to seek the views of CAA staff and stakeholders.

"Our objective is to understand whether there are, or have been, any significant areas of concern regarding workplace culture, and how the Board has responded to the concerns.

"We also want to be assured the Board have the appropriate resources and strategy in place to ensure the wellbeing of all staff, while maintaining and building the authority's people capability."

Newshub.

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