MENZ Issues

A Woman (Joanne Harrison) Offends, A Male is Found to Punish

The case of Auditor-General Martin Matthews appears to be another example of men being held responsible when women misbehave. Not much has fundamentally changed in attitudes since the era in which husbands were considered responsible for their wives’ behaviour and debts.

Mr Matthews was previously in the role of Secretary of Transport, i.e. heading the Ministry of Transport, while one of his middle managers Joanne Harrison stole from her employer, i.e. stole our taxes, to the tune of at least $725,000 through a string of deliberate fraud offences described by the Court as a ‘web of deception’. Since her conviction some politicians have suggested Mr Matthews may not be competent to be Auditor-General because of Ms Harrison’s conduct under his watch.

Sure, the boss may be seen as ultimately responsible for what happens in his or her organization. However, one can only be responsible for one’s own actions. If those actions were remiss and thereby made it easy for staff to misbehave, then it’s important the boss is held accountable for that. However, we have heard no evidence or even allegations of wrongful actions on his part.

Sure, roles like Auditor-General need the confidence of government and the public, and any cloud that might hang over the role even if a fake cloud may need to be addressed. However, if all things were the same except that the Auditor-General was female it would be most unlikely her competence would be questioned or that she would be stood down. The hails of gender discrimination would be too irritating for anyone to dare call for what has happened to Mr Harrison. And if the offending staff member had been male, the female boss would have been treated as an unfortunate victim of his badness rather than as another possible offender.

The current events concerning the Auditor-General reflect the same attitude that underlies the law making partners financially responsible for what benefit fraudsters have stolen, even if those partners had no role in the fraud. Female beneficiaries far outnumber male beneficiaries and most benefit fraud is done by female sole parents paid by the state to live, or appear to live, without their children’s father in the household. That law is designed to make men share the blame and responsibility when women offend.

If indeed Mr Matthews is found to have erred in managing events concerning Ms Harrison, we can predict that will have been related to pro-female gender discrimination, such as ‘sugar and spice and all things nice’ naivety and/or fear of being attacked as misogynist or subjected to allegations of sexual harassment or worse should he have displayed more suspicion towards her or dealt with her more firmly at the time, assuming his position had any direct involvement at all.

What hasn’t been mentioned by commentators around this case is that women commit fraud and theft-from-employer offences at a much higher rate than men do. We will soon publish research confirming this. The little matter of female avarice and dishonesty isn’t considered by those calling for equal gender ratios in senior management (never for the low-paid roles…) and claiming that having more women managers magically improves the performance of organizations.

As for Ms Harrison, she was imprisoned for 3 years 7 months with no mention of a minimum period before parole, meaning she may well be released after one third of that time, i.e. not much more than a year. Not bad earnings on top of her good salary and it’s likely that many people would gladly volunteer to spend a bit more than a year in jail for a return of over $725,000. Police are said to be looking to recover some of her stolen assets but it’s interesting they have not used their draconian powers to do so earlier (as they are quick to do with males suspected of ill-gotten gains), and we have yet to see how cunningly she tied up her loot to protect it from recovery. Certainly, there’s no mention anywhere that she has paid back or offered to pay back anything she stole.

This might all sound like masculinist paranoia but we believe we are simply making observations about what is actually happening.

We thoroughly support an investigation about how her staff were treated, particularly those who raised concerns about her and were then ‘restructured’ into losing their jobs.