INITIATION rites continue to be carried out within the NSW Fire Brigades, and bullying and intimidation affect all areas of the organisation, an investigation has found.Sexual abuse and ritual bastardisation of young recruits, which took place in the 1970s and 1980s, has largely been replaced by psychological abuse such as verbal insults, threats and aggressive behaviour, a report by KPMG says.The investigation was ordered by the state government this year after several fire fighters went public with claims of widespread abuse, saying management turned a blind eye or covered it up for decades.Fallout from the revelations is set to continue – five serving fire fighters who were charged with indecently assaulting a fellow officer in 1989 are to appear in court on Tuesday. The officers are on paid leave.The Independent Commission Against Corruption is understood to be investigating allegations of misappropriating funds and rorting expenses at the brigade’s training headquarters in Alexandria.In a joint statement, the Commissioner of NSW Fire Brigades, Greg Mullins, and the state secretary of the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union, Jim Casey, said both groups were ”concerned that the report notes that there is still evidence of both physical bullying (including shouting and aggressive behaviour) and psychological bullying. Such behaviour will not be tolerated.”Last month the Minister for Emergency Services, Steve Whan, said a $1.3 million workplace conduct and investigations unit had been set up to look into and prevent further instances of bullying and harassment. Other initiatives included a 24-hour confidential hotline for employees to report workplace issues, and complaint resolution training for all 7000 brigades staff.The Opposition spokeswoman on emergency services, Melinda Pavey, said it took ”very brave whistleblowers” to put a spotlight on the destructive workplace culture.”We’ve had seven ministers in 10 years, and no Labor ministers had the courage or saw the need to fix some very fundamental problems within the fire brigades.”The report found there was a pervading ”boys’ club” mentality, with just under half of the 186 female firefighters surveyed having personally experienced discrimination. .It found physical abuse still occurs with 14 per cent of employees having experienced it personally and 19 per cent having witnessed others experience it within the past two years.
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