What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 1 January 2024 – 7 January 2024

Adelaide Hospitals Address ‘Sexist’ and ‘Humiliating’ Behaviour of Surgeons with Eye Posters

Researchers have discovered a new way to tackle “sexist” and “humiliating” behaviour by surgeons in operating rooms in Australia. A junior doctor and intern representative for Bairnsdale Regional Health Service, Rose Petrohilos, said that it was “not uncommon” for surgeons to describe fellow medical staff in the operating theatre as “incompetent”. Further, Dr Petrohilos said that “gossip in the operating theatre is also very common”. She said that “some surgeons talk disparagingly about other surgeons while they’re not in the room” and that “jokes made in the operating room can also be quite sexist.” Research has shown that the majority of health care workers have experienced “rudeness, derision, insulting remarks, humiliation and being ignored.”

To address this, University of South Australia professor Cherri Ostroff developed the idea of printing images of eyes and placing them on the walls of operating theatres. The images were included without any explanation to staff and some them had the words underneath “operate with respect”. Staff were surveyed before and after the signs were put up. Professor Ostroff said that only one month after the images were included that participants reported a decrease in offensive and rude remarks (from 93% to 86%). The posters are planned to be part of a larger campaign related to improving workplace culture.

Second Phase of Anti-Discrimination Legislative Reforms in Northern Territory Commence

On 3 January, the second phase of the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Act 1992 commenced. These reforms bring into effect substantive amendments to the state’s law which were passed by the Legislative Assembly in November 2022. The first phase of the reforms came into effect on 3 July 2023. The second phase has introduced a new positive duty and a complaints mechanism called the Representative Complaints process. The positive duty is a “new legal duty for organisations and businesses to take positive action to prevent and eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation to the greatest extent possible.” The positive duty is “compliance-focused” and is “aimed at strengthening organisational value with potential change-behaviour and change-culture outcomes for organisations and businesses.” The activation date of the positive duty, meaning its enforcement by the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commission, commences on 6 January 2025. The representative complaints must be “made no later than two years after an instance of systemic discrimination alleged in the complaint, by an organisation or body which has credentials in representing the group affected.”

Senior Tasmanian Police Officer Accused of Harassing Female Colleagues

A senior female Tasmanian police officer is being investigated after it was alleged that she harassed a female colleague at an end of year work social function. Tasmania Police confirmed that the officer is the subject of an internal professional standards investigation in relation to the incident. It has been alleged that the conduct occurred at a bar on Hobart’s waterfront in December 2023. The officer has been on leave since the alleged incident. The Tasmania Police said in a statement that the organisation “does not tolerate any form of harassment and is committed to ensuring its members treat one another with respect and dignity at all times.” Further, it said that “the wellbeing of our officers is of paramount importance, and wellbeing support has been offered to all affected parties.”

Bruce Lehrmann’s Team Admit ‘Unsatisfactory’ Evidence, Federal Court Publishes Written Submissions

Bruce Lehrmann’s legal team have conceded that their client’s evidence was “unsatisfactory” in the defamation trial against Lisa Wilkinson and Network Ten. However, they have argued that Ms Brittany Higgins is a “fundamentally dishonest witness”. In their written closing submissions, published by the Federal Court on Friday, Mr Lehrmann’s legal team argued that Ms Higgins had at times “admitted her duplicity also hardly is to her credit.” The submissions stated that “the Court would conclude that Ms Higgins has lied repeatedly, in multiple forums and despite having legal moral or ethical obligations to tell the truth.” Further, they read that Ms Higgins “persisted in asserting lies even when they become untenable” and that “in these proceedings whenever Ms Higgins was challenged, her almost automatic response was to give unresponsive and self-serving speeches about the effects of trauma, or to go on the attack and make further allegations.”

‘Baseless Accusations, Threats, Bullying’ as Councillors Banned from Talking to Staff

Fights in relation to land deals and planning decisions at a Sydney council have led to a ban on councillors speaking to staff. Further, the council have hired a clinical psychologist to address bullying and intimidation. The general manager of Lane Cove Council, Craig Wrightson, implemented the ban after a secret council vote in December. He said in an email to councillors that “I confirm that all contact with any senior staff member has been temporarily suspended.” Further, he said that a clinical psychologist had been hired to provide training to staff and councillors to manage “workplace psychosocial hazards”. The current Lane Cove mayor, Liberal Scott Bennison, said that “the political climate over the last two years… has led to challenges for the current elected group.” He said that “participating in politics requires resilience, but it doesn’t automatically permit staff and councillors to be subjected to baseless accusations, disrespect, threats, intimidation or bullying.”