What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 19 October 2020 – 25 October 2020

Adult Cyber Abuse Increased by 87% since COVID-19

Since COVID-19, Australia has experienced an 87% increase in adult cyber abuse reports, compared to the 2019 average. A significant number complaints involve ‘being sent unwanted messages, receiving inappropriate content such as pornography or violent content, or being electronically tracked without consent. Federation University Australia senior cyber psychology lecturer Dr Evita March said online abuse has increased during the pandemic because people are under more stress. ‘The more stress that we experience in our lives, the more frustrated we are, the more likely we are to engage into aggressive and antisocial behaviour,’ she said.

SA Law Society Say Parliamentary Inquiry Would Delay Progress of Elimination of Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession

The South Australian Law Society has called a parliamentary inquiry into sexual harassment within South Australia’s legal profession ‘unnecessary.’ The comment comes after the South Australian Upper House passed a motion by SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros for the Equal Opportunity Commissioner to investigate the extent of sexual harassment in the legal profession. Bonaros, who experienced assault at a parliament Christmas Party last year, was motivated to lodge the motion after allegations of sexual harassment against former High Court Justice Dyson Heydon. In lodging the motion, Ms Bonaros said that ‘of all the professions, it is very much my view that the judiciary, the legal profession and each and every member of this place, that is, our lawmakers, those people who are armed with interpreting our laws and applying our laws, should know better.’ Following the motion, Ms Bonaros received a letter from SA Law Society president Tim White, claiming a state-based inquiry would ‘not effectively achieve the outcome it appears directed towards’ and ‘probably delay the progress and implementation of measures currently well underway’ to eliminate harassment in the legal profession. ‘The Society understands that sexual harassment is a serious issue within the legal profession and acknowledges and shares the valid concerns that underpin the motion,’ he wrote. ‘However… the existence of sexual harassment has already been established by a number of surveys undertaken at various levels capturing all subsets of the profession,’ he critiqued.

Sweeping Changes in Airservices Australia Due to Toxic Culture

Dozens of Airservices Australia staff have been fired amid bullying or sexual harassment claims. The terminations come after a review by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick’s exposed the government corporation’s ‘toxic’ culture. Airservices Australia chief executive Jason Harfield told Senate estimates on Tuesday that nine people – including four managers – have left aviation company since June 1 amid bullying and harassment allegations. Additionally, approximately 50 code of conduct investigations have started. This upheaval reflects Mr Harfield’s promise, in the wake of Ms Broderick’s report, to enact sweeping cultural changes. ‘This behaviour has no place in any workplace and must stop,’ Mr Harfield said at the time.

Senator Lambie Accused of ‘Vile, Profane’ Language by Former Staff

An unfair dismissal case against Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie has finally reached the Federal Court. In 2017, Ms Lambie’s former Chief of Staff was dismissed after claiming the Tasmanian Senator subjected office staff to ‘gross’ sexual comments. Rob Messenger, and his wife Fern, who was Ms Lambie’s office manager, worked for the Senator since 2013. However, they were dismissed by the senator in May 2017 following complaints about workplace health and safety. The matter is now before Justice John Snaden in the Federal Court, where the Messengers argue that Ms Lambie used ‘vile, profane, vulgar language’ in workplace. ‘Senator Lambie subjected and exposed, staff, myself, my wife, to vile, profane and vulgar language,’ he said. ‘It became wearing. Many of the comments had sexual connotations, were inappropriate and gross,’ he added. The hearing is expected to continue until the end of the month. Senator Lambie is yet to give evidence.

HC Declined to Give Investigation Report to Police About Justice Dyson

The High Court has declined to hand over its report into allegations of sexual harassment against former justice Dyson Heydon to police, three months after the police originally sought it. The court’s chief executive and principal registrar, Philippa Lynch, told the Senate Estimates Committee it has left that decision up to the six complainants. She explained that the complainants could individually choose to give police the section of the report relating to them.

This decision comes as three new allegations of sexual harassment have surfaced against the former High Court judge. Philippa Lynch revealed that after reaching out to other former staff, eight former associates and one former staff member had come forward to speak to Vivienne Thom, the former inspector general of intelligence and security conducting the review. However, Heydon is unlikely to face punishment, as the complainants do not want the matters investigated further. A spokesman for the High Court explained: ‘[t]he four individuals who made allegations to Dr Thom were very clear that, although they wanted this information to be provided to the court, they were not making formal complaints and did not expect, or want, these matters to be investigated.’ The former justice has continued to vehemently deny the allegations.

Vic Police Redress Scheme for Sexual Harassment Received 250 Claims

A scheme set up to support police officers who have been sexually harassed, assaulted or discriminated against at work has received more than 250 claims and spent $1.6 million on compensation since its launch in December. The redress scheme was established following a damning Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission report. A Justice Department spokeswoman said the scheme was ‘making a real difference to the lives of former and current Victoria Police employees who have experienced workplace sex discrimination or sexual harassment.’