What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 17 – 23 December 2018

Senator Buckingham Quits Amid Allegations of Sexual Harassment
A Greens MP has quit amid accusations of sexual harassment. Jeremy Buckingham has been at the centre of calls from his own party members to leave his post following allegations that he sexually harassed a party staffer. Despite denying the claims, he has announced that he will quit and run as an independent in the next NSW state election. In so announcing, he described the Greens party as a “toxic organisation”.

Internal Review of Australian Border Force Reveals Toxic Culture
An internal review of the Australian Border Force has shown problems with its toxic culture. Entitled the May Report, it revealed that staff members themselves believed recruits were, “cowboys, too aggressive, and too keen to use weapons”. Moreover, it found “alarming levels of sexual harassment and bullying”, as well as discrimination in the agency. In particular, the report acknowledged there was an unconscious bias in the ranks that affected women, older employees, people of diverse ethnicities and disabled people especially. The report was commissioned in 2017 by then commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg, who has since been dismissed.

FWC Makes A ruling on Whether a Local Council Falls Within its Jurisdiction in Relation to a Stop Bullying Order
The Fair Work Commission has held that a municipal council falls within its anti-bullying jurisdiction. When Marina Bastikos applied for an order to stop bullying, the City of Port Philips denied first that there was any bullying, and in the alternative, rejected that it was a constitutional corporation, as required by the Fair Work Act. However, the commission recognised that the council’s trading activities comprised a substantial portion of its overall activities, and that they were not peripheral to the city’s other functions. As such, Ms Bastikos will be allowed to continue with her application. Prior to the commission’s decision, there had been uncertainty as to whether such local councils did fall within the ambit of the Act’s anti-bullying jurisdiction. This decision highlights that whether a council does fall into such a jurisdiction is a question of the relative proportion of the council’s activities, and will need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Australian Building and Construction Commission Granted $3.7m to Reduce Workplace Bullying
The Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) will be granted an additional $3.7 million to reduce bullying in the workplace. Recent cases that have passed through the High Court and Federal Court have emphasised the need for such extra funding. For example, decisions have found that the CFMEU Queensland branch president threatened a site manager; that a CFMEU official threatened to blockade a rail project; and that other CFMEU officials had breached the Fair Work Act on numerous occasions. Denita Wawn, the CEO of Master Builders Australia, said that, “The additional resources announced today will enable the ABCC to better discharge its functions as a regulator and hold building industry law-breakers to account”. She noted that the commission was crucial to eradicating bullying from construction and building sites.

Companies Consent to Waiving Confidentiality Agreements for Sexual Harassment Submissions to AHRC
A group of companies across Australia have consented to waiving confidentiality agreements temporarily to allow victims of harassment to contribute more freely to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s national inquiry. Among the thirteen companies, the Commonwealth Bank, Medibank and Rio Tinto have agreed to waive certain non-disclosure agreements to encourage submissions, prompted by Commissioner Kate Jenkin’s call. The submission deadline has been extended to the end of February in 2019.

Former Colleague of Geoffrey Rush Alleges Sexual Harassment
A former colleague of Geoffrey Rush has accused him of improper sexual behaviour on the set of a play from 2010 and 2011. Yael Stone, who acts in Orange is the New Black, worked alongside Mr Rush in the Belvoir Street Theatre’s production of Diary of a Madman. Ms Stone claims that he would text her often and into the morning, using “banter” that became “increasingly sexual in nature”. On one occasion she says he entered her dressing room and danced naked in front of her, while on another he tried to spy on her while she showered. She characterised the environment as one of “enormous power imbalance”, and feared offending him would affect the play and her career.