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Allegations of industrial foul play at BOM -

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Allegations of industrial foul play at BOM

Broadcast: 10/07/2007

Reporter: Greg Hoy

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology is well-funded and ranks amongst the world's biggest weather
watchers. But one Melbourne manufacturer, asked to help deal with a large, hazardous design problem
for the bureau, has raised with the 7.30 Report allegations of industrial espionage and foul play
in the business of watching Australia's weather.

Transcript

ALI MOORE: We're often assured by national leaders of the paramount importance of nurturing
Australian industry and commerce for the future.

The public service is meant to lead by example, promoting development of Australian technology and
thus, the economic benefits this will bring the nation. While such sentiments sound patriotic, how
far removed can they be from reality?

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology is well-funded and ranks among the world's biggest weather
watchers. Less well known is that this somewhat quaint science can be dangerous. One Melbourne
manufacturer, asked to help deal with a large hazardous design problem for the bureau, has raised
with the 7.30 Report allegations of industrial espionage and foul play in the business of watching
Australia's weather.

Greg Hoy reports.

GREG HOY: Who'd want to be the weather man? For all the state-of-the-art technology, the aircraft
instrumentation, the remote sensing satellites, for all the finest facilities the Bureau of
Meteorology's annual $237 million of taxpayer funding can buy, reading the clouds can be
confounding, and the critics can be unkind.

DR SUE BARRELL, ASSIST. DIRECTOR, BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY: I think the Bureau has a very strong
reputation in the Australian community. We're very highly regarded and we provide services that are
valued.

GREG HOY: But there are those who say it's dangerous to have a blind faith in all at the Australian
Bureau of Meteorology.

FORMER SENIOR TECHNICAL OFFICER, BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY: I've seen burn victims. I know them. And
I'm devastated that somebody, my friends, could end up, through something that I've done wrong or
didn't or wasn't able to write, I've put them at risk.

GREG HOY: This former senior technical officer with the Bureau -we'll call Mr T - would prefer to
remain nameless to protect his family. His fear begins with a 50-year-old daily weather-watching
ritual.

MR T: I still wake up in the night thinking that I didn't do enough.

GREG HOY: The humble if hazardous weather balloon. From 59 or more locations around Australia and
its region, the Weather Bureau sends at least 55,000 hydrogen filled balloons aloft each year,
carrying signal emitting radiosondes, tracked by radar to measure atmospheric pressure,
temperature, humidity and cloud height.

(To Dr Sue Barrell) Have you done everything possible to make balloon launching safe for your
employees?

DR SUE BARRELL: We've certainly done as much as we can do, we operate very safe facilities.

GREG HOY: Protective and anti-static clothing and balloon enclosures are designed as protection
against the power of a hydrogen explosion as demonstrated in this controlled trial.

TONY HENRY, ENGERTROL ENGINEERING: They have had a number of near misses and people badly burnt in
the past, I believe, from balloons being ignited.

MR T: It's not expensive to do the right thing, obey the law.

GREG HOY: Seven years ago, the Bureau approached engineer Tony Henry of Melbourne firm Engertrol,
experts at managing hazardous environments in the oil, gas and chemical industries, to review its
balloon launch sites, which the Bureau knew did not comply with Australian safety standards.

MR T: Tony Henry is one of - he's an outstanding, has an outstanding ability in this area.

GREG HOY: Mr T led the approach by the Bureau. In the process, he says Tony Henry came up with a
far safer design for balloon launches, but in developing his original prototypes, he was asked to
use up leftover Bureau components to contain costs.

TONY HENRY: Hydrogen, if you remember from the Zeppelin disaster, is what happens when it catches
fire, when it ignites. We're about 25, 30 years in front of anything else they'd come across.

MR T: More futuristic, more - making, actually, a lot more, like, a lot more safe. Smart technology
that was largely the intellectual property of Engertrol.

GREG HOY: The critics fear an explosive chain reaction, suggesting the Bureau's hydrogen is often
stored in large cylinders not safe for such a gas. The technical work was often done by tradesman
without sufficient hazardous training. The vital safety dossiers are often simply not kept and
maintained as required under the law.

MR T: There's no checking and testing, they just assume that the Government will do things right.

GREG HOY: Assistant Director Dr Sue Barrell, in charge of observations and engineering for the
Bureau, and thus the hazardous balloon launch sites, insisted she'd be the only one interviewed by
the 7.30 Report, even though she worked elsewhere when negotiations were conducted with Engertrol.

DR SUE BARRELL: I'm as clear as I need to be, thank you.

GREG HOY: Engineering superintendent Laurence McBean was central to the Bureau's negotiations at
the time, but the Bureau would not allow us to interview him. We insisted he be present, but the
Bureau insisted we not broadcast his filmed responses about the hazards of the launch sites.

(To Dr Sue Barrell) Are they subjected to random inspections?

DR SUE BARRELL: Um... They're open for random inspections, whether they are routinely is, I guess, up
to the relevant safety authorities that need to undertake them.

GREG HOY: Is it true that hydrogen is stored in large 1,000-litre orange cylinders designed for LPG
use?

DR SUE BARRELL: Ah... I can't answer that one.

GREG HOY: Is it possible that we just check that with your technical advisor?

DR LAURENCE MCBEAN (actor's voice): The cylinders were designed for LPG use but have been modified
for hydrogen use.

DR SUE BARRELL: Sorry, the answer is they have been modified. They are appropriate for hydrogen
storage.

GREG HOY: So is it true that the manufacturers advise that they're not suitable for hydrogen use
and can leak out of porous welds et cetera?

DR LAURENCE MCBEAN (actor's voice): You're correct in saying hydrogen can leak from porous material
such as welds and any other storage vessel it's stored in.

GREG HOY: Are the appropriate verification dossiers kept and maintained at all sites?

DR SUE BARRELL: Ah, again, we maintain all of our documentation to the levels we're required.

GREG HOY: The Australian safety standard AS238 stipulates the need in hazardous areas to maintain
such a strict safety check. As a certified hazard inspector, Tony Henry was asked by the Bureau to
check over the Finnish company Vaisala's favoured design for a fully automatic balloon launcher,
the AUTOSONDE, extravagantly priced at around $600,000 to $1 million for one unit.

TONY HENRY: When I looked at it, I told them, it's bloody dangerous, I wouldn't use it. Because
it's designed for a safe gas and you're using it for a flammable gas.

GREG HOY: Tony Henry explained he could easily adapt his semi-automatic balloon launcher which Mr T
has confirmed was much cheaper than the Bureau's. To create a far safer version of the $1 million
AUTOSONDE import for just $150,000.

MR T: And the Bureau was very seriously looking at doing this, as such it would then have become a
competitor to the AUTOSONDE.

GREG HOY: This with a Bureau document obtained by the 7.30 Report shows the Bureau established a
three-technician selection panel to explore the best Australian supplier, the design, manufacture,
installation and maintenance of semi-automatic and automatic balloon launchers, that would, unlike
available systems, comply with Australian safety standards. Engertrol won unanimously, but in doing
so it's alleged it upset an old and close allegiance between key people at the Bureau and its
biggest, albeit foreign, supplier, Vaisala.

MR T: Yes, there is one company that some people in the Weather Bureau are very close to. They are
big.

GREY HOY: Vaisala is the giant of world weather watching equipment, and the Australian Bureau is
one of its biggest customers. Indeed the relationship is such that Vaisala's former Australian
manager has been appointed to a senior management position for the Bureau of Meteorology itself.

DR SUE BARRELL: The Bureau's open procedures for purchasing equipment follow all Commonwealth
guidelines in terms of contract compliance and tendering.

GREG HOY: But at great expense, it seems. Fourteen European AUTOSONDES have been imported so far
and despite the selection panel's recommendation, no orders for cheaper Australian versions were
ever commissioned, be they automatic or the semi-automatics produced in-house.

DR SUE BARRELL: We developed our own control mechanism that does the job that Mr Henry, that the
Engertrol control unit was suppose to do.

MR T: I've manufactured it all and I wasn't happy with what I was manufacturing. It was highly
inefficient and costly.

GREG HOY: Meantime it's alleged the real funny business had begun to unfold. Over at Engertrol
there was a break in.

TONY HENRY: About one o'clock in the morning the police tell us some professional people walked
through our building and took the accounts and the engineering, the server of all our computer
records, the whole lot was - disappeared. The policeman said to me, he said, "You're not doing a
tender, are you, for anyone?" I started laughing.

GREG HOY: Police could not determine who was responsible or if this was connected to the tender.
Back at the Bureau, however, there were more mysteries.

TONY HENRY: We were asked to hand our designs over to another company, a third party, and I said,
"Well no, we can't do that, we haven't recouped our money yet."

DR SUE BARRELL: It's clearly a claim being made by Mr Henry of Engertrol.

GREG HOY: Is it true, or is it false? Is it true?

DR SUE BARRELL: I have no idea whether it's true or false, and it's really irrelevant.

GREG HOY: Is it true, Laurence?

LAURENCE MCBEAN (actor's voice): No, I don't recall that

GREG HOY: But the mystery business executive left his business card behind. GHD is a huge
multinational architectural, defence and Australian Government services contractor who handled
construction of large and costly weather stations, office and other projects for the Weather
Bureau, often under Laurence McBean's supervision. The former Bureau staffer say there was some
questionable pre-payment and budget shuffling arrangements made at the Bureau with GHD that were
hard to track.

DR SUE BARRELL: In the past we've operated a trust fund. We undertake very large, tight jobs with
GHD and I understand that there has been a facility in the past which I don't think exists any
longer.

GREG HOY: Controversy over a questionable lack of experience has not prevented GHD from
consideration for plum government projects in the past. To the surprise and anger of many, the
company managed to win the lucrative contract for the final clean up of the Maralinga Atomic Bomb
Range, despite the strongest objections from the departmental adviser to the project, nuclear
engineer Alan Parkinson, who paid the ultimate professional price for his protest.

ALAN PARKINSON, MARALINGA CLEAN-UP PROJECT: The GHD were not qualified to take over this part of
the project. Now I was very disturbed that it was even being thought about. I expressed my
disappointment. For my pains and for objecting to that, I was removed from the project and the
whole thing came about.

GREG HOY: Similarly, Mr T, the Weather Bureau's technician on the balloon launcher, also says he
was abused, threatened, isolated and forced into early retirement.

Around the world meantime, some 730,000 weather balloons are now launched into the heavens each
year. A lost ballooning opportunity for Australia. Engertrol did seek a patent on its launch design
with all original components, even if it didn't have the blessing of the nation's bureaucracy.

TONY HENRY: In fact, I believe it's just gone through. It's only now that the Bureau are
challenging it.

DR SUE BARRELL: We're objecting to the patent only on the basis that Mr Henry is trying to patent
equipment that isn't, wasn't his own invention.

MR T: No, I don't believe that there is anything that he stole other than maybe he was entering
into a market place that they weren't controlling.

They won the hearts and mind of the Bureau. My nightly, almost nightly nightmares which went away
until you reintroduced them to me, were that I am right and that there's a potential hazard and
occupational health and safety that has to be addressed and needs to be addressed.

ALI MOORE: Greg Hoy with that report.