What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 10 August 2020 – 16 August 2020

Report Into Dysfunction at the City of Perth Made Public

After a two year investigation, the WA state government has released its 2000-page report into the City of Perth Council. The report found 250 instances of ‘poor governance, factionalism, greed and incompetence.’ Local Government Minister David Templeman said the inquiry also identified 135 matters that are being referred to the WA Police, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Taxation Office. These referrals included instances of ‘candidates using sham leases to become eligible to stand for election, a lack of disclosure of financial interests by most elected members, and councillors using their position to advance personal business interests.’ Mr Templeman said these findings pointed toward a culture of self-interest and a lack of accountability and transparency. He described the City of Perth Council as ‘fertile ground for greed, incompetence and mismanagement.’ Mr Templeman added that ‘[t]he report paints a picture of poor leadership by Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi.’ Mr Templeman has called on the former Lord Mayor, Lisa Scaffidi, to take responsibility. ‘The Lord Mayor is the elected leader of a council and Lisa Scaffidi, like any leader, needs to take responsibility for the dysfunction that occurred,’ he said. Special inquirer, Tony Powers, said ‘[t]he Lord Mayor, Ms Lisa Scaffidi, too often encouraged division and factionalism. Some members of the council and the administration engaged in improper and unethical conduct.’ The 2000-page report also contains 350 recommendations. Perth City Council is now in possession of the report, and has 35 days to advise what it has done or proposes to do to give effect to the recommendations. On October 17, the city’s residents and ratepayers will have the opportunity to choose a new lord mayor and eight councillors. Mr Templeman recommended council and mayoral hopefuls read the report ‘to ensure the new council does not repeat the city’s past mistakes.’

KPMG Defies Call To Drop Clause Requiring Partners to Retire at 58

KPMG Australia has refused to remove its compulsory retirement age of 58 for partners, despite warnings from Australia’s former age discrimination commissioner that such clauses are illegal. The warning comes after accounting firm Deloitte Australia became embroiled in a high-profile legal action over its mandatory retirement age clause. The case prompted competitor Ernst & Young to remove a similar clause from its partnership agreement. Former age discrimination commissioner Susan Ryan: ‘Australia has had a Commonwealth law making age discrimination unlawful since 2004.’ Ms Ryan, Australia’s first age discrimination commissioner, was disheartened that KPMG has continued to keep its clause. ‘It is very disappointing that a prestigious company that gets a lot of work from Commonwealth departments and agencies actually has a formal requirement that is on the face of it against the purpose of the Age Discrimination Act,’ she said. In the same statement, Ryan advised KPMG to immediately drop the clause from its partnership agreements. However, KPMG has stood by its clause, stating the firm was formed as ‘a no goodwill professional partnership, rather than a company’ and partners were ‘not employees, but rather shareholders.’ A KPMG spokeswoman said that ‘[t]here are no surprises in regards to the voluntary retirement provisions – partners are aware at the time of joining the partnership and we commence discussions and provide transition support for partners in the years leading up to retirement.’ ‘Our retiring partners are treated fairly when they leave the firm. Partners retire from the partnership at different ages, and we do have partners who are older than 58,’ she continued.

Independent Lawyer to Investigate Racism and Bullying at SBS

An independent lawyer has begun investigating Australia’s Multicultural broadcaster, SBS, over allegations of racism and bullying. The investigation comes after current and former employees spoke out about the toxic and harmful culture in the SBS newsrooms. Antoinette Lattouf, a former journalist and Media Diversity Australia director, was a victim of ‘quite serious bullying’ while at SBS. ‘This impacted me for years and still makes me feel sick when I encounter that person or hear similar stories from the next generation of culturally and linguistically diverse journalists,’ she said. Ms Lattouf applauded the ‘comprehensive’ changes, but noted they were ‘overdue.’ ‘It’s unfortunate it took social media shaming and interviews with the Australian press for SBS to realise it had a problem internally,’ she said. ‘In an industry lacking cultural diversity, SBS is often seen as the only workplace for diverse journalists,’ she said. ‘If they are subjected to racism and bullying at a place like SBS, what hope do they have elsewhere?’ To further push diversity, SBS has since created the corporate strategy director and Indigenous content director roles. SBS has also ‘added diversity to its job interview panels to avoid unconscious bias, established financial incentives to encourage promotion of internal talent, and created “inclusion champions” to provide support and information to staff, as an alternative avenue to a formal complaint or investigative process.’