What’s been happening in Australia in relation to sexual harassment, discrimination, and bullying: 27 May – 2 June, 2024

Report finds that sexual harassment is rife inside Australian parliament 

A landmark review has found that more than half of employees in Australia´s federal parliament have experienced bullying, sexual harassment or sexual assault.

This report into its workplace culture was commissioned after a former staffer Brittany Higgins said she had been raped by a colleague in a minister’s office in 2019. Her story sparked a wave of wide-ranging allegations of misconduct that took place in Canberra.

The report, titled Set the Standard, found that 51% staffers had experienced some form of bullying, sexual harassment or actual or attempted sexual assault. Some 37% of interviewees who still currently worked at the parliament said they had experienced some form of bullying while working there, while 33% said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment. It found that 63% of female parliamentarians had experienced sexual harassment – an even higher percentage than for political staffers. 

One unnamed MP told the review: “Aspiring male politicians who thought nothing of, in one case, picking you up, kissing you on the lips, lifting you up, touching you, pats on the bottom, comments about appearance, you know, the usual. The point I make with that … [w]as the culture allowed it, encouraged it.” 

Survey results indicate around 1% of people have experienced some form of actual or attempted sexual assault. The victims who came forward were disproportionately women, said Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, who authored the report. The review, which was tabled in federal parliament, interviewed 1,723 people. The report made recommendations including improving leadership and gender balances and reducing a culture of alcohol. 

CEO of Nine Network emails staff following allegations of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ and announces review 

The CEO of media company Nine has acknowledged “serious” claims of “alleged inappropriate behaviour” at the network and announced a review of its “concentration of power”. 

In an internal email to all staff obtained by the ABC, chief executive Mike Sneesby said he was meeting with Nine News staff on Monday afternoon to discuss what he called “broader cultural issues”. He denied having ever asked staff to sign non-disclosure agreements after making a complaint. The email goes on to announce an external firm will conduct an independent review of the “behaviours and concentration of power that has damaged the trust and fairness within our television newsrooms”. 

Country Road Group undergoing an independent review amid allegations of harassment and sexual assault

A statement by Country Road Group confirmed the independent review is currently in its final stages, with the outcomes expected to be shared with its team members in June. 

According to The Australian, two senior executives at Country Road have resigned since the launch of the investigation, with Woolworths Holdings Limited CEO Roy Bagattini initially flying out to Australia to address the allegations. 

The alleged improper behaviour includes “sexually laced comments”, unwanted kisses and touches, and workplace bullying, with many staff reportedly angry at the initial response by its parent company, including failure to offer adequate support.  It is now believed that staff at Country Road Group’s Melbourne headquarters have been offered access to counselling services.

Rio Tinto facing possible class action following sexual harassment report

Following a scathing report into Rio Tinto, which uncovered widespread sexual harassment, Shine Lawyers is investigating a class action against the mining giant. Rio Tinto could face a class action brought by employees and contractors who may have been subjected to sexual discrimination or sexual harassment at work on Australian mine sites.

In February 2022, a review conducted by former Australian sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick identified “disturbing findings of bullying, sexual harassment, racism and other forms of discrimination through the company”.

Among the report’s findings were that, in the last five years, nearly three in 10 women and 6% of men had experienced sexual harassment at work, four in 10 men and over three in 10 women who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander in Australia experienced racism. Shockingly, 21 women surveyed reported actual or attempted rape or sexual assault. Bullying and sexism were also found to be “systemic” in Rio Tinto workplaces, with almost half of the people surveyed having experienced bullying.

In a statement issued at the time of the report’s release, Rio Tinto chief executive Jakob Stausholm said: “The findings of this report are deeply disturbing to me and should be to everyone who reads them. I offer my heartfelt apology to every team member, past or present, who has suffered as a result of these behaviours. This is not the kind of company we want to be.

Bullying allegation at Corrs prompts regulator to get involved

SafeWork NSW met with Corrs Chambers Westgarth last week after the workplace regulator received a complaint about allegations of bullying and inappropriate conduct at the law firm. Corrs denied the agency had opened an investigation, or that it had any plans to do so, but said it was liaising with SafeWork to provide copies of its policies and procedures. 

A SafeWork spokesman said it was currently “making inquiries into allegations of psychosocial hazards at Corrs” and it could not comment further while inquiries were ongoing. The complaint comes as the NSW government, on Wednesday, launched a new strategy on workplace psychological safety, with large employers in high-risk industries such as law to face compliance checks from the regulator. 

Law was classified as a high-risk profession by SafeWork in 2021 after major law firms Gilbert + Tobin and King &Wood Mallestons were issued improvement notices after investigations into extreme working hours.

1 in 7 adults admit to engaging in workplace technology-facilitated sexual harassment


An alarming report from Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety Limited (ANROWS) has laid bare an inextricable link that workplace sexual harassment fuels gender inequality and enables other forms of violence against women to continue. Since the shift to remote working environments, there has been limited data on the prevalence of technology-facilitated sexual harassment in the workplace until now. 

ANROWS revealed that one in seven Australian adults admit to engaging in workplace technology-facilitated sexual harassment. This disturbing statistic highlights how the very tools designed to enhance productivity and connectivity have unleashed a new wave of harassment. The study found that men were more than three times as likely as women to be perpetrators of workplace technology-facilitated sexual harassment, and 45% of offenders operating in male-dominated workplaces.

The research exposed that perpetrators are rarely held to account for their behaviour, and many perpetrators minimised the severity of their actions, believing victims would be “okay with it,” find it humorous, or even flattered. Working from home has exacerbated this, without the scrutiny of the professional office environment and visible managers setting boundaries, employers can no longer turn a blind eye or rely on plausible deniability.

Underreporting remains a significant obstacle, with less than 40% of workplace technology-facilitated sexual harassment perpetrators facing formal complaints. There are often various reasons, but the most common is that individuals do not have trust and confidence in the reporting and response mechanisms available in the workplace. Another reason is that they do not believe the employer will take any action against the perpetrator.  

Doctor banned after sending sexually explicit texts and voicemails to patient 

A doctor who sent sexually explicit text and voice messages to a patient, then threatened her partner after she complained about him, has been banned from practicing medicine in Australia for 12 months.

The Medical Board took disciplinary action against Benjamin Saunders after they received a complaint that he had allegedly engaged in professional misconduct. Dr Saunders began sending inappropriate text messages to the patient after an office Christmas party in 2017, with his behaviour carrying on for some months, the State Administrative Tribunal heard. Dr Saunders’ was advised by his supervisor that they had received complaints about him and that his contract would be terminated in four weeks.

Three days later, Dr Saunders’ employer received further complaints and he was fired on the spot, the SAT heard.  

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency was then advised about his conduct and launched an investigation. It also noted the cancellation of Dr Saunders’ right to practice in Australia would lead to the cancellation of his visa and he could be required to depart the country. Dr Saunders can reapply for his Australian medical licence in 12 months and was ordered to pay $45,000 in costs. 

ACTU wants right to disconnect in all modern awards 

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is pushing for the inclusion of the right to disconnect in all modern awards after previous attempts from lawmakers to abolish it. ACTU filed a submission to the Fair Work Commission that includes a draft model clause for the right to disconnect for modern awards. Under the draft clause, ACTU wants to hold employers accountable for proper staffing and planning to minimise out-of-hours contact. 

Australia’s right to disconnect was passed early this year with implementation set for August 26, 2024, and August 26, 2025, for small businesses. However, there have been attempts to overturn this controversial legislation from Australia’s coalition, led by Opposition Leader Peter Dutton. 

LGBTQ+ hospitality workers at high risk of harassment and discrimination

Several reports have shown that LGBTQ+ hospitality workers are highly susceptible to harassment and discrimination in the workplace. 

Even as Australian society grows more accepting of queerness, hospitality workplaces continue to have a “systemic sexual harassment and gender-based violence problem”, according to the United Workers Union. Many workplaces simply lack the systems to handle discrimination or harassment when it happens.  

A report from The Conversation in 2023 on harassment in Newcastle and Melbourne confirmed this; women and gender-diverse patrons were more likely to be targeted, and queer or female workers are often expected to defuse tense situations. 

Women in tech are paid 14% less than men, while twice as likely to be harassed

A new report by Trade Union Professionals Australia reveals that women working in tech and IT in Australia are being paid up to 14% less than men and are twice as likely to be bullied or harassed.

Called the ’Employment and Remuneration Trends for Tech and IT Professionals’, the report investigates the opportunities and challenges facing the tech workforce in the current economic environment. Researchers found there are major disadvantages for women in tech and IT  including low representation (particularly in senior management levels), a significant gender pay gap, and a greater likelihood of experiencing discrimination and harassment in the workplace. 

Survey data showed a 14% gender pay gap in Games, a 13.4% gap in New Tech, an 8.8% gap in Traditional Tech, and a 7.7% gap among IT workers employed in Other Industries (including the public sector).  

The report also found that women considering leaving the IT profession were much more likely to report reasons of parenthood and discrimination or bias in the workplace than their male counterparts.