Workplace Investigation in Outback | WISE Workplace

WISE was recently called in by a Department to investigate serious allegations of misconduct in a remote location over 300kms from the nearest big town. Arriving in the nearest town by plane, the WISE Investigator was required to hire a four-wheel drive vehicle equipped with a two-way radio, satellite phone and an emergency beacon. They then set off on the four-hour trip on an unsealed road through the sandy desert in the 38°C heat. One wrong turn and you faced the prospect of running out of fuel or water.

we asked our investigator, what are some of the challenges when conducting interviews in remote communities:

What do you have to be mindful of when working in a remote community like this?

To respect cultural customs and traditions.  ALWAYS RESPECT that you are a guest in their country. If you don't know, ask, don't just assume knowledge.  For example, before entering a community find out – if someone had died.  If this is so expect the whole community to shut down – 'sorry business'  becomes the highest priority.

You have to be very flexible and be prepared for events of this kind.

How do you deal with the need for confidentiality in a small community?

It’s not always easy. You should be aware that in any small community, information travels fast. Before you have driven to the community, people can know who you are, what's your business and who you intend to speak to! The reality is there will usually be leaks.  Learn to manage them.  Again, you are a guest in their country, always respect this.

What was it like picking up the emergency beacon, did it make you concerned?

Initially no – but you are given a beacon with no training. You know if you have to use it, you’re going to be in trouble. In locations like these you don’t know where you are. There is no signage. You rarely see another vehicle and if you do, I found that no-one stops. I think they are fearful that someone will jump out of the bush and you won’t come back. The further I travelled into desert the more 'concerned' I was. No signs as to where you are, the only signs about were no alcohol and no porn! I did not know where I was but I knew what I wasn't allowed to take with me!

Have you had any previous experience working in remote communities?

Only very limited direct dealings. In the majority of cases those involved the inquiry will come into town. They wanted to come into town in this case, but it was more beneficial for the investigation and the relationships for me go out there. It showed the witnesses and the community that you are taking their issues seriously. It builds respect.  The witnesses were far more helpful as a result. Over the phone, issues can cause friction and misinformation but there was appreciation of me of making the effort to travel a long way into the desert to deal with their problems.

How did this experience of Indigenous life differ from the city mob that you usually deal with?

There is no doubt that the major difference is access to services – the living conditions can have similarities. In a remote community, there is one small supermarket that doesn’t sell much – some people just go hunting for dinner. Traditional lore is all encompassing. It still has structures and information and is still practiced today in a modern variation.

What advice would you give to someone asked to conduct an investigation in small remote communities such as this?

It is preferable to get an external investigator and certainly not someone living in the community or nearby (within 500kms). You need someone who is culturally aware and sensitive – not necessarily but preferably Indigenous. You need to leave your assumptions at home. If you are arrogant and think ‘I have a mobile phone I can do anything' – you’re wrong. Even just changing a tyre in remote areas can be a major job.