What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 10 April 2023 – 16 April 2023

Victorian Government Faces Criticism Over Bullying and Harassment Reforms to WorkCover

The Victorian government has faced criticism this week following its announcement to reform WorkCover through the exclusion of workplace bullying and harassment in mental injury claims. The government previously stated last month that WorkCover was “fundamentally broken” and “unsustainable due to the ballooning costs of pay-outs.” Dr Katrina Norris, the director of the Australian Association of Psychologists, has criticised the proposal by stating that the changes would be a “green light” to “perpetrators of bullying and harassment… to continue their behaviour and removes the right of victims to support and compensation when they have not been protected in the workplace”. According to Dr Norris, approximately 39 per cent of psychological claims in Australia are related to workplace bullying and harassment. Dr Norris describes that its removal would exclude employers from providing a safe working environment for employees. Furthermore, this proposal may worsen the already strained mental health system as people “won’t seek help until it is too late.”

Hundreds of Bullying Allegations Arise from Australian Public Service

Hundreds of bullying, harassment and discrimination claims have reportedly been submitted by employees of the Australian Public Service. The reports are the result of the new Respect at Work legislation, which was introduced last year by the Albanese government in effort to combat harassment and discrimination in the workplace. According to the article, the Department of Foreign Affair and Trade reported that there were 77 allegations of bullying and harassment. Meanwhile, there were 10 claims of “inappropriate behaviour” within the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority. Further, the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water reported that there had been 80 claims of inappropriate behaviour, however the majority of these allegations were lodged before the commencement of the Albanese government. Formal warnings were issued to staffers after it was found that three out of 15 allegations were substantiated within the Department of Finance. A report released last week into the workplace environment of the Australian Antarctic Division found that “41% of about 300 staff… experienced bullying in the past 12 months.”

Twitter Forced to Remove Content Directed at Brittany Higgins After Commission Notice

Julie Inman Grant, the Commissioner for eSafety in Australia, has issued a notice to Twitter to remove harmful content aimed at Brittany Higgins and her partner David Sharaz. Mr Sharaz lodged a complaint with the eSafety Commissioner last year, requesting that an investigation be conducted into the content posted on Twitter. According to the article, the Commissioner acted promptly and utilised new cyber abuse powers to compel the social media platform to remove the material for the first time. The powers reportedly can only be used when a platform has “refused to act on content that an ordinary person would believe was ‘intended to have an effect of causing serious harm to a particular Australian adult’’ and that it would be regarded as being “menacing, harassing or offensive.” Twitter removed the tweet within 24 hours in response to the eSafety Commissioner’s notice. The new cyber abuse powers have reportedly been used only six times since their inception over the past year, reflecting the seriousness of the posts in relation to Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz.

Presbyterian Church States Students of Same-Sex Relationships Not to Take Up Leadership Roles

The Presbyterian Church of Australia released a statement this week saying that “active same-sex students” should not be allocated leadership roles at school. According to the article, the statement was made in response to the Religious Educational Institutions and Anti-Discrimination Laws Consultation Paper. The Church also stated that this would be the case for students with a “sexually active unmarried heterosexual relationship”. The Church reportedly stated that it enrols students who do not share the same views of sexuality and gender. The Minister for Queensland Youth Affairs stated that this position “sent a message of ‘hate and division’” and that students “should not be punished for their gender identity or whether they are sexually active.” Further, Matilda Alexander of the Queensland LGBTI+ Legal Services said that “this submission could encourage further stigma” and “further discrimination”.

Melbourne University Professor’s Unfair Dismissal Claim Rejected Over Sexual Harassment Claims

A former Melbourne university professor’s unfair dismissal claim has been rejected over claims of sexual harassment. Aaron Harwood was a professor at the University of Melbourne who had made consistent advances towards an international student who was employed as a casual research assistant. Harwood reportedly attributed his behaviour to undiagnosed autism, which led him to misunderstand social cues and the belief that he “was just being friendly.” The former professor was dismissed in September of last year after Melbourne University found that Harwood sexually harassed the complainant and breached a number of workplace policies. According to the article, Harwood had sent an apology letter to the complainant at the time of the investigation, in which he stated that he would have accepted risking his career for her. The Fair Work Commission found that this letter supported the allegations of the complainant and led to the decision that Harwood’s dismissal was not “harsh, unjust or unreasonable.”