What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 14 – 20 June

ASX 200 Failing on Harassment

A new survey conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission on behalf of investment group, Australian Council of Superannuation Investors, has found only 19 per cent of ASX 200 companies believe the board was primarily responsible for writing of policies governing sexual harassment and responses to these issues, with the majority relying on HR. The report is part of a wider push to have the ASX require its members to report company responses to sexual harassment as part of its listing requirements. This is in line with the recommendation of Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, in the 2020 Respect@Work report. According to the survey findings, based on a sample of 118 companies of the top 200 ASX-listed companies, only 43 per cent of respondents indicated that sexual harassment was a regular agenda item. A third of those surveyed had no mechanism in place to identify and mitigate risk factors for sexual harassment in their organisations. The report noted that boards are largely reactive to the issue of sexual harassment, with external events (such as media reports) being more likely to prompt a discussion at board level. It recommended that boards put in place policies to ensure they are better equipped to deal with problems before they hit the media.

Australia’s Religious Discrimination Law to be Brought to Parliament

Attorney-General, Michaelia Cash, is set to overhaul Australia’s religious discrimination laws by December this year. Reform to the Bill has been called for by religious leaders who want to overturn state bans on gay conversion therapy and introduce a broad definition of faith-based institutions. Senator Cash said, ‘our government takes the issue of discrimination against Australians on the grounds of their religious beliefs seriously.’ The Government previously invited submissions on the bill between December 2019 and January 2020, which was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Disability Employment Services Failing Tertiary Qualified Individuals

The Australian youth unemployment rate has risen to 11.6% in 2019, while it sits at more than double that for young people with a disability, at 25%. In 2018, the Australian Network on Disability reported that graduates with disabilities take 61.5% longer to find full-time employment than their counterparts. On top of this, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report shows 31.9% of people with disabilities experience employment discrimination. Mary Sayers, the CEO of Children and Young People with Disabilities advocacy group, pointed to the difficulties faced by this cohort. She said, ‘young people with disability have high expectations of what they want to do with their future, but often the responses are categorised by really low expectations.’

Australian Army Investigating Alleged Bullying and Harassment at Sydney University Regiment

The Australian Army is investigating allegations of bullying and harassment of officer cadets at the Sydney University regiment. The regiment manages and delivers full-time training to army reserve cadets and army gap year officer cadets. The allegations include claims of verbal abuse and inappropriate comments made by superiors; men conducting searches of women’s rooms, including underwear drawers; and a nearly three-month period in which cadets were forced to work seven days a week with no days off. It is understood that the Army has commenced enquiries into the allegations.

Swimming Australia Hit with Allegations of Bullying, Sexism

The culture of Australian competitive swimming has come into question following tweets made by Olympic medallist Madeline Groves. In them, she alleged that Australian swimming is rife with sexism and misogyny, claiming that she had been ‘body shamed’ and suffered ‘medical gaslighting.’ It comes after similar tweets by Ms Groves last year, in which she wrote that no one took her complaint seriously after a senior male coach leered at her ‘tits.’ Swimming Australia has said it doesn’t have a complaint on record and has tried to reach out to Ms Groves to investigate her allegations further. Further details have come to light this week, revealing that young female swimmers have been oinked at, told to get boob reductions and dubbed ‘lard arses.’ One Olympic swim coach has also been accused of making boys wear girls bathers if they swim too slow. Swimming Australia has maintained it has been ‘consciously working on issues of institutional concern for the past decade’ and committed to forming an independent panel to investigate issues relating to swimmer’s experiences.