What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 18-24 October 2021

WA Labor to Introduce New Legislation to Address Workplace Bullying and Sexual Harassment

On 20 October 2021, the McGowan Government announced it was introducing the Industrial Relations Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 to improve employment protections. Among the changes is a new framework to address bullying and sexual harassment. The Bill will allow the WA Industrial Relations Commission to issue stop sexual harassment orders in the same way they exist through the FairWork Act’s stop bullying orders. This change aligns with recommendations from the Human Rights Commission’s 2020 Respect@Work Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report.

Inquiry Into Mining Industry Reveals a History of Sexual Harassment

A parliamentary inquiry is currently investigating sexual harassment in the FIFO industry. This week, BHP representatives spoke in support of creating a register of sexual offenders in the Western Australian FIFO sector. On Wednesday, BHP executive Brandon Craig told the inquiry that the company has begun a trial of conducting criminal history checks for new recruits. He continued to say that BHP is developing an internal blacklist for known offenders. Mr Craig apologised on behalf of BHP for any victims of sexual misconduct at BHP workplaces. He told the inquiry that BHP is investing $300 million to address sexual assault and harassment through education, training and communication. The CEO of Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia, Paul Everingham, told the inquiry that until every mine site was safe, he had not done his job. He iterated that sexual assault and harassment cannot be stopped by merely hiring women. He said that in order to boost gender diversity in the industry, the sites must first be safe for all employees. BHP has terminated 48 people for sexual harassment in the last 2 years and is committed to checking the criminal background of its prospective employees.

Gold Coast Teen Loses Job After Receiving COVID-19 Vaccine

A Gold Coast teenager, Georgia Smith, has reported that her employer, Ned Kelly’s Pizza, stopped giving her shifts after she received her first Pfizer dose. The business claimed that her vaccine status made her a health risk. Maurice Blackburn, a law firm that specialises in unfair dismissal, has assisted Miss Smith in lodging a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission against her former employers for discrimination. The discrimination claim is on the basis of disability, as the former bosses said to Miss Smith that her vaccination status gave her a condition. Maurice Blackburn argue that “The employer imputed a disability to her, they’ve said that because you’re vaccinated you’ve got a condition and you’re a risk to us because of the fact you’re shedding particles”.

SafeWork NSW Sues Qantas for Discriminating Against An Employee Who Raised COVID-19 Concerns

SafeWork NSW is commencing legal action against Qantas for an incident that occurred in early 2020. Theo Seremetidis had his job terminated after he directed other workers to “cease unsafe work”. Mr Seremetidis was a trained health and safety representative. He deemed the cleaning staff to not have adequate protective equipment to work on aircrafts that were arriving from China in early 2020. SafeWork NSW is filing charges in the District Court, alleging that Qantas breached its obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act. In terminating Mr Seremetidis’ position, after 7 years of employment, Qantas breached the laws enacted to protect health and safety representatives from discrimination. SafeWork NSW accused Qantas of discriminating against Mr Seremetidis for raising safety concerns.

Former Labor leader of Tasmania, David O’Byrne, Sends Letter Thanking Supporters After Sexual Harassment Allegations

Former Tasmanian Labor leader, David O’Byrne, resigned from his position after allegations were made against him for sexual harassment. This week Mr O’Byrne thanked his supporters and expressed that this has been a “traumatic and confusing time” for him. This message was sent to all party members, including the women who have experienced sexual harassment from Mr O’Bryne. The first incident occurred around 2007-2008, when Mr O’Byrne kissed a co-worker without her consent and sent sexual text messages to her. The woman, Ms Midson, was only 22 at the time. An investigation into the claims has found that Mr O’Byrne acted inappropriately but has not breached Labor policy. Ms Midson has publicly commented that she feels letters like this have potential to re-traumatise victims of sexual harassment. She feels that public victimisation of Mr O’Byrne exemplifies why victims of sexual harassment, who are predominantly women, are afraid to come forward with their claims.

The Craig McLachlan Legal Battle Shifts From Sexual Harassment to Defamation

Former Neighbours actor, Craig McLachlan, has commenced an action in defamation after being acquitted for sexual harassment. McLachlan is suing the ABC, Nine and Christie Whelan Browne for the damage to his reputation after being accused of sexual harassment, indecent assault and bullying. Ms Whelan Browne alleged that while McLachlan worked on the Rocky Horror Show in 2014, he exposed himself to female colleagues. The defendants plan to rely on the truth defence to support their argument that McLachlan was not defamed. Ms Whelan Browne will be a key witness in the defamation lawsuit. Ms Whelan Browne has alleged that McLachlan also engaged in sexual harassment during their time as co-stars on Neighbours from 1987-89. The lawsuit is set to commence in May 2022.

Australian Defence Force Experiences Highest Number of Sexual Assault Complaints in Eight Years

This week, it was revealed that the Australian Defence Force received 187 complaints related to sexual assault in 2020-2021. These figures were included in the Department of Defence’s annual report. This marks the highest number of complaints for sexual assault in the last 8 years. In 2019-2020, the Defence Force reported 160 cases. In 2018-2019 there were 166. The recent figures for 2020-2021 include 116 cases of alleged aggravated sexual assaults. The overall data includes cases of penetration without consent as well as threats of non-consensual acts. Non-aggravated offences included touching with a sexual nature without consent. John Blaxland, from the Australian National University, specialises in international security and believes this data, although shocking, may indicate that people are more willing to report. In 2017-2018 there were changes in the reporting system within the Defence Work. The 2020-2021 report details the investigations into resolved cases. 63 cases remain open.

Sexual Harassment by Medical Professionals: Melbourne Gynaecologist Found Guilty of Professional Misconduct

Dr Rudolph Lopes has been suspended by the Medical Board of Australia since early 2018 after it was reported that he had made sexualised remarks to patients and colleagues. A patient claimed that Dr Lopes had referred to her vagina as “nice” and “looked just like an Australian one”. He began the examination by telling her, “Ha, I didn’t even have to buy you dinner first.” A colleague also told the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal that Dr Lopes had made several sexualised comments to her over the years. These comments included him asking to see her vagina and perform pap smears on her for “mates’ rates”. Dr Lopes was also reported as having looked down her shirt, undoing her bra strap and touching her without consent. The VCAT has since found Dr Lopes guilty of professional misconduct. His lawyer has said that Dr Lopes understands the comments to the patient were inappropriate and were an attempt at humour to ease her. Although Dr Lopes lost his job as a result of the conduct, VCAT did not cancel his registration. The tribunal considered the three and half suspension to be sufficient punishment, despite the Medical Board of Australia advocating for cancellation of Dr Lopes’ registration to show the seriousness of his conduct.