What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 16 October 2023 – 22 October 2023

WorkSafe Fines Court Services Victoria $380,000 for ‘Toxic’ Workplace

Court Services Victoria (CSV) has been fined $379,157 and convicted this week for failing to provide and maintain a safe workplace. The Melbourne Magistrates Court heard this week that from December 2015 to September 2018, employees at the Coroners Court were “at risk from exposure to traumatic materials, role conflict, high workloads and work demands, poor workplace relationships and inappropriate workplace behaviours.” A number of employees lodged complaints during this period, including claims of “bullying, favouritism and cronyism, verbal abuse, derogatory comments, intimidation, invasions of privacy and perceived threats to future progression.” Some workers resigned after they had reported feelings of anxiety, PTSD, stress, fear and humiliation. The toxic workplace environment led to Jessica Wilby, the Principal in-house lawyer, to take her own life in September 2018. Ms Wilby had been diagnosed with a work-related major depressive order and had been on personal leave for three months. CSV agreed that it “failed to conduct any adequate process to identify risks, and any adequate risk assessment of the risks to psychological health of employees at the Coroners Court.” Dr Narelle Beer, the Executive Director of WorkSafe, stated that “everyone in an organisation has a role to play in creating a healthy and safe environment, but the development of a positive culture and appropriate risk control measures depending on leadership from the top.” In a statement released in response to the sentence, Chief Justice Ferguson stated that “CSV has a responsibility to continue to act and to put measures in place to ensure that our workplaces are safe. We have and will continue to work to ensure that our actions live up to the high standard we set ourselves.”

Survey Finds Sexual Harassment at University Increasing

A survey conducted by the National Tertiary Education Union has found that sexual harassment has increased by approximately 53% in the past 4 years at universities. Further, one in three respondents to the survey reported that they had experienced sexual harassment, up from 19% in 2018. More than 2,000 university staff participated in the 2023 survey. The survey found that the perpetrators of the alleged offences were “co-workers… managers and students.” Further, the survey found that only 13% of respondents made a formal complaint, with approximately half not complaining at all. Further, half of the 13% who made a formal complaint were encouraged to drop their complaints. Dr Alison Barnes, the union’s nation president, stated that the results of the survey were “alarming and deeply disappointing.” Further, Dr Barnes said that “when over a quarter of respondents experience sexual harassment, and half of them are aware of others being harassed, it’s clear that this isn’t just an isolated issue; it’s a systemic failure.” Dr Barnes stated that “respondents to our survey have said that while they know there are sexual harassment policies in place in their workplaces, most don’t report sexual harassment because of institutional cultures that ignore, minimise or even target victims of sexual harassment.”

Parliamentary Integrity Commission to Investigate Parliamentary Bullying Claims

A new parliamentary integrity commission was announced this week to investigate “bad behaviour” of MPs and ministers within the Victorian parliament next year. An investigation by Victoria’s integrity bodies recommended last year that a parliamentary integrity commission be established to investigate allegations of misconduct. Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan stated that “this is every member of parliament’s workplace, but it is also too a workplace for so many other staff and for too long the standards haven’t been kept pace with modern expectations.” Further, Premier Allan stated that “we have to make sure that we have in place an integrity framework and a reporting framework particularly in cases of workplace harassment, particularly of a serious nature, that victims can feel that they have a process… where their complaint will be handled sensitive but thoroughly.” The new integrity commission will be composed of three individuals. The Attorney-General, Jaclyn Symes, stated that “we acknowledge that the Victorian government has fallen behind and there are gaps that we need to fix.” Further, Ms Symes stated that the “ethics committee will have a really good role in being able to provide advice to the commission, advice about what they might think some educative reforms might be, programs that new MPs might be exposed to.”

SafeWork NSW Releases Four Year Strategy to Support NSW Businesses in Preventing Workplace Sexual Harassment

SafeWork NSW announced this week its four-year strategy (from 2023 to 2027) to support NSW businesses in addressing and preventing workplace harassment, as well as “other gender-based harmful workplace behaviours.” SafeWork NSW will be able to “educate NSW businesses on their duties to prevent and respond to workplace sexual harassment before it occurs and take appropriate enforcement action to protect NSW workers.” Trent Curtin, head of SafeWork NSW, stated that “workplace sexual harassment is unacceptably common with one in three Australians in the past five years reporting experiencing it, and affecting 41 per cent of women and 26 per cent of men.” The new strategy involves the following desired outcomes: to educate; to determine capability; to action and to be an effective regulator. The main focus areas of the strategy include hospitality; healthcare and retail; small and medium businesses; and workers that are most at risk of workplace harassment.

Lisa Wilkinson Sues Channel 10 for $700,000 in Legal Fees from Bruce Lehrmann Defamation Case

Lisa Wilkinson has sued Network Ten for $700,000 in legal fees arising from the defamation case brought by Bruce Lehrmann. Ms Wilkinson held an interview with former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins when Ms Higgins first alleged that she had been raped by a colleague in Parliament House. Mr Lehrmann was not named in the interview; however, he claims that he was identifiable in the publication. Mr Lehrmann was charged and faced trial last year before the case against him was abandoned due to juror misconduct. No findings have been made against Mr Lehrmann and he has consistently denied the allegations made against him. Mr Lehrmann has commenced defamation proceedings against Network Ten and Ms Wilkinson in relation to the interview. Additionally, Mr Lehrmann is suing the ABC in relation to a National Press Club address involving Ms Higgins. Ms Wilkinson’s case against Network 10 in relation to her legal fees is listed for 3 November, while the defamation case is listed on a date in November.