Federal senator, Brian Burston, has been accused of sexual harassment toward one of his staff members. The allegations of ‘serious sexual harassment’ made media headlines after One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson, raised the issue in a speech to the Senate last Tuesday. It has since emerged that the staffer lodged a complaint to the Department of Finance late last year about the 70-year old parliamentarians conduct. The complaint detailed how Burston propositioned her with sex in a crass attempt to make her ‘feel better’. The woman labelled Burston as one of parliament’s ‘biggest perpetrators’ in terms of sexual harassment and bullying. Senator Burston has since denied all allegations of sexual misconduct.
At the eleventh hour, the Northern Territory state government has said it will issue a limited waiver over non-disclosure agreements. This would allow NT public servants to make confidential submissions to the Australian Human Rights Council’s ‘National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Workplaces’. Last November, the AHRC’s Sex Commissioner asked employers to temporarily waive confidentiality agreements so that employees could make submissions without fear of reprisal. Last week, Minister for Public Employment, Gerry McCarthy, abruptly announced that the NT would follow other public sectors across Australia in issuing the waiver. However, this has left Northern Territory public sector employees with less than two weeks to make submissions. NT Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Sally Sievers, has said that reporting needs to be facilitated, as sexual harassment is ‘prevalent and pervasive’ within the Territory. She noted that reported instances of sexual harassment have fallen dramatically in the past five years, but that this shouldn’t be taken to reflect an actual decline in rates of harassment.
Federal Court Chief Justice James Allsop has spoken out against judicial bullying. In a recent speech, his Honour reminded judicial officers that they could be subject to bullying claims under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). ‘Courts are also workplaces’, Chief Justice Allsop warned. Judges need to be courteous and more mindful of how they ‘influence the working environment in which practitioners spend their time’. These remarks came after a 2018 survey (Quality of Working Life Survey, Victorian Bar) revealed that over two-thirds of Victorian barristers had been victim to judicial bullying. The survey identified the power-imbalance between courtroom participants as the main reason behind this. Victorian Supreme Court Chief Justice, Anne Ferguson, has since rallied alongside her Federal Court counterpart. Her Honour encouraged judicial officers to attend more seminars ‘about bullying, judicial conduct and advanced court leadership’.
Reports of toxicity and organisational rifts within Amnesty International have raised concerns about its Australian equivalent, Amnesty Australia. Jeremy Poxon, of the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union, said that the issues identified in a recent report on Amnesty International were present within the Australian organisation too. The report, released earlier this month, uncovered widespread claims of bullying, harassment, discrimination, and abuses of power from within Amnesty’s International Secretariat. Poxon said that “young, passionate workers have withstood bullying because they believe in the organisation’s principles so deeply”. In response to concerns, calls have been made for a similar Amnesty report to be produced in an Australian context. Poxon said that Amnesty needs to respond quickly, otherwise it will lose its credibility as a humanitarian organisation.
Research has found that most young people have faced harassment in their first job. A recent study conducted by Griffith University surveyed the experiences of over 330 undergraduate students. Almost 75% of respondents reported having experienced some form of abuse or harassing behaviour in their first paid position. Verbal harassment (49.1%) and sexual harassment (14.5%) were among the most common forms. The report called upon governments and bodies to take a more active role in enforcing fair work regulations as they pertain to younger, and more vulnerable, demographics.