Night of the Steak Knives

rwsqThe current and previous Boards of WIRES have shown total intolerance towards members who express opinions different to their own. Differing opinions as to how WIRES should be managed, the treatment of its volunteers, and animal welfare standards are some of the more substantial points of friction. Disagreement of any kind can elicit a reaction from the Board. Many believe that the Board’s intolerance of difference is based on personal insecurity over tenure. Any questioning of the leaders is seen as disloyalty. No one is immune: They will turn on old friends. The “long knives”, metaphorically speaking, will come out for friends who become uncomfortable with the ugly truth they see developing. Some of the methods used against their perceived opposition, when intimidation fails to silence them, are more akin to “steak knives” – metaphorically speaking.

This article is based on information provided by a number of WIRES members, ex members and whistle blowers branded as troublemakers. They allege that unfair and unconstitutional actions by management forced them out of WIRES. If you disagree with the Board or you associate with members that do, you are labelled “controversial” or “dissident” and you will be treated as a threat to the organization.

You can't disagree

Go to topGo straight to commentsAdd a commentMembers wanting reform claim that since the introduction of the new Constitution, there has been a systematic purging of members who have voiced views which differ from those of the Board. It is also alleged that management uses various means to deal with these reformist members. These measures are designed to exclude those who ask questions from being involved on the State Council, the Board, Standards and Management teams, committees outside WIRES or from employment at the SRO. These members, who have academic, business or professional qualifications, or extensive caring experience, are essentially locked out of making any volunteer contribution towards the running of WIRES. Those with proven professional skills and academic qualifications are viewed as threatening to the new regime and are thus immediately targeted for isolation and eventual expulsion. Ultimately, the integrity of the organisation and the care of wildlife are undermined as a result.

Mr Wood sacked the training officer because he showed signs of having a free-will, a conscience and some humanity.

It began in the Sydney Rescue Office (SRO) in March 2008, when Stan Wood, in a clear conflict of interest, was both Chair and General Manager. This was one month after Mr Wood was instrumental in replacing an inclusive committee to run WIRES with a separated Board of which he was head. Mr Wood sacked the training officer because he showed signs of having a free-will, a conscience and some humanity. It is alleged the training officer questioned the direction the new regime was taking very early in its life. Many members were shocked. They began to question also what was happening at the highest levels of management.

Members were affected by the sacking in the two years that followed. It was a period of postponed and cancelled training courses with no support from the Standards Teams or the newly contracted training facilitator. Those employees at the SRO, who were also volunteers, allege they were bullied and harassed for their associations with the now sacked training officer. This harassment resulted in most of them resigning from the SRO.

in-house conversations, on the secured “members-only” discussion boards, were being secretly policed by a single-minded stasi in the guise of the Board Secretary

Members then discovered that in-house conversations, on the secured “members-only” discussion boards, were being secretly policed by a single-minded stasi in the guise of the Board Secretary, Merrilee Verhoeven. Ms Verhoeven silenced any opinion that related to how WIRES was managed, shutting down any discussion that in any way critiqued the running of WIRES. Such discussions included the topics of euthanasia, information on non-WIRES training, the democratic processes within WIRES, the actions of the Board and management, and the resignations of key WIRES members. These new interventions by management reminded some of the approaches used by oppressive totalitarian dictatorships.

This sentiment might be thought of as hysterical over-reaction if it were not for evidence of other intrusive practices by the Board. If you are considered to be a dissident then you need to be very careful. Increased and often covert scrutiny of your actions will follow. Any innocent mistake could have serious consequences, and there are allegations of deliberate schemes created to “trip-up” those outside the Board’s grace. These include being investigated by a private eye, expulsion on dubious grounds with thin evidence, being publicly defamed and being held to ridicule.

On the other hand, it appears that if you are connected with board members, you need not be so careful. This is evident when no action was seen to follow from gross breaches of WIRES and OEH policies by board members and their allies; matters that would see others quickly and harshly dealt with. Some examples include: Maggie Cooper, Board Member representing the North West Branch, was involved in the exhibition of reptiles at a fair; live animals were used in demonstration at avian training courses; Central West Board member, Jim Watt, was intrumental in the policy of compulsory euthanasia of eastern grey kangaroo joeys; favoured members keeping animals they are not authorised to have in care; and an injured owl being brought to a Rescue & Immediate Care Course to show to new members before it was euthanized. These matters were generally dismissed without any inquiry.

There are members close to the Board allowed to move to other branches without resolution of complaints or allowed to stay in a Branch outside their residential area. Both these situations are highly irregular in WIRES. Another Board associate has no authority to care for raptors but is allowed to keep them regardless of complaints. Most of these individuals are either on the Board or the State Council.

It can sink as low as moving to another seat at a meeting when a member they dislike sits near to them. It really does sink this low for those in power at WIRES.

Other tactics used could only be described as immature school yard bullying and include basic rudeness, intimidation and exclusion. Such acts include deliberately ignoring another, refusing to communicate with select persons, hostility and confrontations at meetings, and alleging trumped up complaints. It can sink as low as moving to another seat at a meeting when a member they dislike sits near to them. It really does sink this low for those in power at WIRES. More alarmingly, as a dissident member in a controversial branch, you may find that your name has been removed from the call centre’s list of rescuers and carers. You may also find your intranet and database privileges have been revoked without notice or explanation. Each of these interventions restricts the ability of the affected person to perform their duties.

Similar actions to those described in the article “Two crappy chairs” have taken place in many branches. The mechanism follows a similar routine: A Board member, or friend thereof, unpopular within their branch, calls on the Board for support. The Board intervenes in the Branch favouring those who support the Board. If you are not on the side of the Board member, or seen to be so, you have no hope of getting a fair hearing. This tactic has already been written about on The Board will not intrude on Branch affairs unless the Board believes there is some political advantage to themselves. They never intervene as impartial arbiters: They will base their decisions solely on what is best for them. Many commentators have come forward with strikingly similar examples of the Board using Branch disharmony to their own ends.

A member who assisted the Board's private investigator, and some say was the only one to "give evidence", subsequently received Board support to hold a branch AGM where members were disallowed the right to proxy voting.

Other examples are more serious. A case in point is the notorious private investigation which wasted $20,000 of donated money on a political witch hunt. The subject of this persecution was the training officer Mr Wood fired in 2008. The investigation was an attempt to destroy his professional credibility. A member who assisted the Board's private inquisitor, and some say was the only one to "give evidence", subsequently received Board support to hold a branch AGM where members were disallowed the right to proxy voting. This was a palpable and obnoxious breach of the Constitution. Some allege this bogus AGM was arranged as payment for her complicity in the secret investigation. This choice member then became the Chairperson and Council Representative for that Branch.

Dissident members on the WIRES State Council have been subjected to rudeness, physical intimidation, alleged defamation and bullying at meetings. This is viewed by some as attempts to silence any inquiry. Agenda items not to the liking of the Board are “disappeared”. They vanish from the paper or are passed over briefly without resolution. Sometimes, in a show of procedural fairness, they are passed on to a Standards / Management Team. These teams cost a fortune in travel and accommodation, are populated with Board members, election to them is a secretive process, rarely do they publish minutes, and the item is never heard from again. Some agenda items have taken six or more months to be discussed. On occasion, agenda items have been doctored without the permission of the author.

In contrast, Board Members or allies can add items to agenda on the day of the meeting, contrary to the constitution and policy. This prevents Councillors from having the opportunity to consider the item / motion or discuss it with their branch. Votes arising from these items have changed the very structure of WIRES. They have also been used to stack the Council and Management teams with Board members and their associates. The minutes of meetings are also questionable.

Allegations were made about the WIRES Council minutes of a meeting in early 2009. These minutes were presented to the Council for approval but contained a manufactured account of the comments made by a Board member. The issue discussed was the use of non-native fruit in the diet of Brushtail possums. This became known as “the possum fruit debate” and caused two years of stagnation in training and care of possums within WIRES. The representatives of the Small Mammals Standards Team (SMST) were denigrated at Council meetings for arguing against the position held by the Board – a personal position held strongly by the Secretary. The SMST’s sole purpose is to advise on best care practices, and they had consulted academics and wildlife veterinarians on this issue. The overwhelming evidence held that some non native-fruit could be given to rehabilitate sick or injured possums. This was not what the Board wanted to hear and they repeatedly rejected the expert recommendations of their own Standards Team. Training of members to care for possums and gliders ceased for the two years this debate took to resolve. This left branches and members without the necessary support or training required to assist sick and injured possums and was in breach of NPWS’ licensing policy.

This hidden process has given those who have been kicked out by their Branches, as the Secretary was in 2010, a most improper way of getting a permanent position on the Council and Board.

The Board further controls “dissident” members through selection to Standard and Management teams. Members who have sought reform, lodged complaints against or have disagreed with the Board are excluded from selection. The process of selection is very much in the Board’s control. This hidden process has given those who have been kicked out by their Branches, as the Secretary was in 2010, a most improper way of getting a permanent position on the Council and Board. This was reported in in “Winning Every Time: Making Your Own Luck”.

Evidence of this unfair process can be found in the formation of the new Management Teams. Standards Teams were designed from the outset to be only temporary sub-committees. The four year tenure of Standards Teams ended in February 2011. However, this matter was not dealt with until July 2011, even though an agenda item to address this was submitted to Council in December 2010. There had been no decision to extend the tenures of the Standards Teams’ representatives. As a result it is likely that any vote from February 2011 to September 2011 did not have authority. Decisions made during this period, including the appointment of the new Management Teams, were unconstitutional and open to challenge. The Board has conveniently ignored this massive breach.

In July 2011 the Board added an agenda item (on the day) which was to again change the structure of WIRES. It added yet another Management Team, called the Governance team, to the Council. The creation of this team was rejected outright a year earlier because it was seen as a waste of money. There was no need for a new Team to do the job that an existing one already performed. Its formation would however create an additional representative, chosen by the Board, to then sit on the Board. The process used to create the new Management Teams is instructive when attempting to understand the processes the Board uses to maintain power.

The existing Standards Team Policy was not used to select the candidates. Instead, the Administration and Training Team, made up almost entirely of Board members, wrote a “hand book” which renamed “Standard Teams” as “Management Teams”. It advocated the creation of the new “Governance Team”. This would increase to eight the number of Council representatives not elected by the membership. With the Board’s tight control over who represents these teams, they gained one more representative at Council and moved further away from valid representative democracy. It was the secretary, recently booted out by her Branch, who took up the job of representing the Governance team. This was a lucky break which allowed her to stand again for election to the Board. It is understood that she has no qualifications to be in a position to advise WIRES on governance.

Two lawyers, in contrast, who also stood for appointment to the Governance Team, were “vetted” by the Board prior to Council seeing the nominations. They were deemed to be “unsuitable”. It is not known what qualifications, if any, were required for appointment to this team and the Board has not ever explained its choices. There was no right to appeal the Board’s decision on the selection of suitable candidates.

The glut of Board appointments now riddling the Council all but guaranteed the current Board’s continued domination.

The eligibility of applicants was made by the Board in secret. There was no involvement of the Council or an independent body in this vetting process. The Board rushed through the selection process because it wanted the teams appointed before the AGM. This would allow team representatives selected by the Board, to stand for election to the Board. The glut of Board appointments now riddling the Council all but guaranteed the current Board’s continued domination. Council was required to vote “blind” on the appointments to the new Management Teams; they were not shown the applications or told how the Board came to recommend or reject each applicant during the vetting process. This undemocratic charade allowed the Board to prejudice the outcome of the vote. Not surprisingly, every single application made by a Board member was recommended by the Board for appointment. There were 24 members at that meeting, eight were Board members and five were from Standards Teams. This meant that 13 members, or just over 50% of those voting, had a vested interest in the outcome. The board's secret vetting process manipulated the outcome of the vote. 

Those members who were not elected were then publicly named in the minutes as being unsuccessful. They have not been furnished with reasons for their “unsuitable” appraisal, but it is known that all have either voiced opposition to the Board or have made formal complaints against Board members. The naming and shaming of these members will no doubt deter others not aligned with the Board from seeking appointments within WIRES. Making an example of them this way will only strengthen the sense of fear felt by non-aligned Council Representatives and ensure their continued silence. 

These methods of control have unfortunate results for the organisation. In persecuting members who seek reform, by preventing them from participating in WIRES, they trash people with often specialised knowledge, connections, and skills that could benefit WIRES. It is the members and the animals that lose when these valuable contributions are scorned. With the management of WIRES dedicating most of its time and the organisation’s recourses to self preservation, while the membership stands by quietly as all difference is erased, there is no opportunity for new members to bring new life and new ideas. Unless something is done, the future will be more of the same.

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

- Martin Niemöller is always happy to hear from past and present members of WIRES that have experienced similar bullying, intimidation or harassment from the Board of WIRES. Please, keep sending your documents to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


# drsusan 2012-08-05 17:06
Dear Spartacus
I have written 2 cpmplaints to the Board in the past and received no response. I have been denied access to Hendy where cages etc are stored. It seems the reason is my support of 2 very long standing carers who were removed form the candidates list on the same day of the AGM voting of new office bearers in East branch. That day, Sharleen , someone I had never heard of despite being a carer in Wires East Branch for 4 years, was miraculously voted in as President.

So who do I write to and how do I best support ypour intention to reform Wires management?
lorry Van Driver.
# Grave Robbers.lorry Van Driver. 2012-08-07 07:47
Wires has become so tainted that I am surprised that anybody would wish to join or bother complaining. Why would anybody wish to be complicit with grave robbers.
# RE: Grave Robbers.margaret 2012-08-12 19:49
There are members working for reform willing to hang around with those skeletons in the cupboards as they are determined to see WIRES become a great place for volunteers to work.
# RE: drmember 2012-08-12 19:43
Susan, Sharlene was moved from another branch by the board to reward her for helping them push out a very popular and respected member. She does not live in East branch. You are not the only member with compaints ignored by the board. If this situation is affecting your health or safety you should report it to workcover as it can make sure your workplace as a volunteer is safe.
# RE: drMegan 2012-08-14 18:05
Write to the Community Justice Centre and mediate the problem with a professionial impartial person. She is bound by the Constition and policy to do this first before the Board (her friends) step in.

East branch members should support each other fight for another election and stand for positions of Chair and WSC rep.
# RE: drmyrtle 2012-08-14 21:36
Sure a board chair has been promised to her as well.
Blinky Bill
# BlinkyBlinky Bill 2012-08-18 10:28
Unfortunately, it is not quite so simple.

Firstly, the CJC only "mediates" between willing parties, If one party refuses an invitation to mediate, that's the end of it. The WIRES Board has shown by its reaction to The Centre for Volunteering last year that it is not interested in mediation.

Secondly, the CJC has very little (if any) powers to resolve issues. It cannot, I understand, order a party to take specified actions.

CJC mediators have little prior background knowledge of an issue and are bound to secrecy (except possibly in the event of a Court case), making CJC mediation of questionable value.
# RE: BlinkyMegan 2012-08-19 06:42
Yes I agree this is not the perfect senario. But at this stage this is what with have. This is also written into the Model and the WIRES Contstitution.

WIRES management (Board, Council, BMC,SRO) have since January 2012 a duty of care to volunteers to resolve complaints quickly, and if they don't we are now able to call in Workcover. Or any other Government department or eventually go to court this would be considered by most people a bad tactic.

Until our Constitution is changed this is what we have. Any other suggestions?
# RE: drguest 2012-08-19 18:20
Ask around Susan as there are lawyers willing to give free advice and help prepare documents, some in public interest groups and barristers. This service should be being provided to members by management ie a members adviser to advise on what to do if you have a problem with your BMC or the Board or your working conditions. There should be a representative for members on the WSC to make sure members' rights are protected and assistance is given to all members when they need help. At the moment members of Council represent the interests of their branches or a management team, or Board members who must have difficulty in working out if they represent their branches or the interests of the Board and other Board members. There is no one on the WSC to look after the rights of members in general.
an eagle
# RE: dran eagle 2012-08-19 19:42
It is unfortunate that the Board seems to consider members who help other members in dealing with complaints against their BMC or the Board, or to answer complaints lodged against them, to be interfering. I think that management has a duty of care to ensure that members have access to independent advice and assistance on issues involving complaints and the interpretation of the Constitution and policies as it makes it very unbalanced and unfair if the Board has the benefit of lawyer's advice paid for by WIRES while the members are not given any guidance or assistance in dealing with complex issues involving the interpretation and application of the provisions of the Constitution and policies. Yes I'd like to see consideration given to appointing a representative for members who is independent of the Board and could advise members and liase with the Board on their behalf on problems members experience or if they want to make a complaint or if they have disciplinary action taken against them.
# RE: drMegan 2012-08-20 08:55
I'm sure WIRES has a number of members that are envolved within the law system or are retired and could volunteer there skills in this field.

I imagine the amount of money being spent on lawyers by this Board is a packet, never mind it's not there money its the donors money. Or maybe that's the problem is they are not consulting legal advice.
white ant
# RE: drwhite ant 2012-08-20 10:27
A HR or human resoucre position in the office could be service members and act as a go between for BMC, Board, and members most business with a large amount of employee's have them. WIRES has 31 employees and 1661 volunteers.

A training officer would be another good position to help service branches. Members would not have to waste time training members at RICC, some branches train many members for other branches a waste of there effort and time especially when it is not going to benefit their own branch. Members would perfer to focus on looking after the wildlife afterall thats why we joined!
# RE: drmyrtle 2012-08-20 13:10
Great ideas white ant. Dont know why WIRES doesnt have a HR manager to look after paid workers and the volunteers as workplace health and safety regulations now cover both. Would be great if the burden of training members was taken over by the admin office and then the time and costs of training new members for all branches would be carried by WIRES. Otherwise they could allow branches to hold RICC courses only for new members of their own branches so some branches werent left to train members of some branches which never do training.
# COMMENT_TITLE_RE Night of the Steak KnivesWattlebird 2012-06-30 21:19
Hi Spartacus - I have an excellent reference in my possession from a current Board member and yet I am denied entry into WIRES. I resigned then decided that I wanted to join again and did another RIC course and was then denied entry. The Board needs to be removed. Keep up your good work Spartacus - there are many, many good carers who want the Board removed.
meal worm
# Entry Deniedmeal worm 2012-07-03 10:09
I would be interested to know what reasons you were given.

I thought having volunteers in a volunteer organistaion is a good thing!
in the know
# RE: Entry Deniedin the know 2012-07-03 18:40
No , not good carers like Wattlebird who wont cower and bow to those in powr.
Magnum P.I.
# Petty minded and resentfulMagnum P.I. 2012-06-28 19:40
This is just all too typical of WIRES. If you have any skills or credentials then expect to be treated with contempt.
Vets are openly disparaged as pet-lovers having no ability with native animals. Anyone with professional qualifications is undermined and quickly removed. Its the land of the suburban know-all where gossip and personal beliefs rule over facts and learning. Science is mistrusted, anyone who isn't average is suspected.
The the venal and banal float to the top. Lawyers involved in governance would only make life difficult for the totally unqualified that run the place now. The lawyers with their knowledge will tell the Council and Board things they don't want to hear, and that is a huge mistake in WIRES. How can they keep doing what they want when someone with years of learning, experience and qualifications tells them they're wrong and gives solid logical reasons for it too? No wonder the organisation is so ridiculous. No one with any class or self-respect would want to remain after realising how mediocrity is so vaunted in WIRES.
While the organisation is open to anyone without any skills and at the same time being compulsory for anyone wanting to rehabilitate native animals, the dumb will outnumber the smart, the petty overthrow the considered, and the animals will get back-yard procedures instead of professional interventions.
# RE: Night of the Steak Knivesdespair 2012-06-28 17:20
This tiny group of people will never give up power and what they do will not stop as it is the way they stop members not in their clique from having a say.
meal worm
# Night of the steak knivesmeal worm 2012-06-18 09:06
Andrew Edwards (Board member at the time) asked participants of a avian course run in the eastern suburbs to bring their animals to the course. He went thru all animals and diganosed them and told members what to do.
# RE: Night of the steak knivesmyrtle 2012-06-18 20:15
No problem with that mealworm. Board members are obviously not bound by the rules. There is no way in WIRES that a board member can be disciplined or censored and the Office of Environment ignores breaches.
# RE: Night of the Steak Knivesyellowtail 2012-06-16 15:55
Some of the behaviour described is childish schoolyard pettiness but most of it is serious bullying, victimisation and favoritism and should not be tolerated.
meal worm
# Night of the steak knivesmeal worm 2012-06-16 09:46
How true is article is! I use to attend WSC meetings and the Board just intimidate members. Its rather shocking. I don't know why they behave like this surely their are plenty of things to do in WIRES. With so much dissent in the organisation the Board and GM are not doing a good job, its time to replace them with some people who can.
# RE: Night of the Steak Knivesmargaret 2012-06-15 09:39
The outstanding grievances by members against all the current Board members, except Stuart Esler, the new board member from the last AGM, remain ignored and presumably will still be current at the next AGM.
a reformist
# RE: Night of the Steak Knivesa reformist 2012-06-15 09:36
It's good that you are back reformwires.

The only hope of change is for non aligned members to stand for elesction to the State Council at the next AGMs so there are the numbers on the Council to bring in a new structure and constitution to give all members the right to stand for the Board and elect the board by a direct vote from the whole membership. This would take away the absolute control which those in power now have and give everyone a fair go.
Its time
# RE: Night of the Steak KnivesIts time 2012-08-16 17:55
Nice suggestion reformist - but difficult to achieve with the way elections are held.....

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