What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 14 – 21 March 2021

Australia Marches Against Sexual Assault and Harassment of women

Tens of thousands of people have turned out to marches across Australia, protesting against the sexual abuse and harassment of women in the country. They were spurred by a recent wave of allegations of sexual assault, centred around Australia’s parliament.

Protesters feel the government’s response to the sexual assault allegations has been inadequate. The protest rallies – known as the March 4 Justice – formed from noon on Monday across 40 cities and towns in Australia, including the major cities of Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne as well as smaller country towns.

Critics also say the government has also been too slow and ineffective in responding to wider accusations of sexism and misogyny in parliamentary culture – a problem they say extends across party lines.

Christian Porter Sues ABC for Defamation

Attorney-General Christian Porter has launched defamation action against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan. Mr Porter has offered to give evidence under oath and challenged the public broadcaster to run a truth defence, which would effectively transform the legal action into an independent inquiry. He is suing the public broadcaster for publishing “false accusations” against him in an online story that claimed he was the subject of historical rape allegations. The legal action is also aimed at a report aired in November that alleged he was a misogynist and sexist. His lawyers have accused the ABC of running a trial by media and Milligan of acting with malice, damaging Mr Porter’s reputation. Despite the commencement of court action, key crossbench senator Rex Patrick is still calling for an independent inquiry. More than 80,000 people have signed a petition calling for Mr Porter to be suspended as attorney-general over the rape allegations he has denied. According to senator Patrick, this calls the public’s respect and trust of Mr Porter into question. This is further evidenced by the thousands of people who marched in rallies this week across the country, including Mr Porter’s ex-wife. Mr Porter has taken indefinite mental health leave but Scott Morrison is adamant he will be welcomed back into cabinet.

Melbourne Uni Allowed ‘Sexual Harasser’ Professor to Keep Jobs

Internationally renowned academic at the University of Melbourne has retained his roles as Laureate Professor and Rowden-White chair of global health despite an independent workplace investigation finding two years ago that he had sexually harassed a young female colleague. Workplace investigator Rose Bryant-Smith found in 2019 “on the balance of probabilities” that Professor Alan Lopez had groped Ashley Frederes in a lift, attempted to kiss her, blocked her exit from his hotel room and told her she looked “sexy”, “irresistible” and a “distraction for all the men”. Professor Lopez categorically denied all the allegations, and continues to do so. The university has publicly stated it has “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment, which gives the university the right to take any “appropriate or necessary lawful action” against those found to have engaged in alleged sexual harassment. It also allows for the university to order the alleged harasser to undergo “professional development”.

SA Parliament to Form Committee to Draft Code of Conduct for MPs

A code of conduct for all MPs will be drawn up by a parliamentary committee in an attempt to improve the culture of South Australia’s Parliament. It follows a damning report by the Acting Equal Opportunity Commissioner released earlier this month which found prevalent sexual harassment in SA’s Parliament, as well as national protests, including one in Adelaide’s CBD demanding action on workplace harassment. Labor MP Katrine Hildyard moved an amendment to the motion, stating that the committee should also draft a code of conduct. Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said it was time State Parliament aligned with community expectations of behaviour.