What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 20 November 2023 – 26 November 2023

AHRC Hosts Positive Duty Webinar

It’s only two weeks out from when the powers of the AHRC and their positive duty are live on the 12th December 2023. This webinar hosted by the AHRC is a great opportunity to hear what powers the Commission have, how they will use them and how a workplace can be compliant.

Students Reject Apology Over Antisemitic Bullying at Melbourne School

Two students have rejected an apology by the education department after being subjected to antisemitic bullying. Former students at Brighton Secondary College, Joel and Matt Kaplan, Liam Arnold-Levy, Guy Cohen and Zack Snelling took the state, the school, two teachers and the principal to trial last year. In September this year, Chief Justice Mortimer found that the students “were not protected from bullying, discrimination and negligence” when they had attended the school. She stated that the principal, Richard Minack, failed to address “a high level of antisemitic bullying and harassment of Jewish students,” including swastika graffiti within the school. Chief Justice Mortimer ordered that the state pay more than $500,000 to the students, as well as to deliver a verbal apology. The deputy secretary, David Howes, issued the apology on Tuesday, stating that “this apology is both an apology directed to the boys for what they suffered and to their families for what they suffered, but it is also an apology to you, the broader Jewish community.” However, students Joel and Matt Kaplan rejected the apology, stating that it was a sham. Matt Kaplan stated, “we asked for an apology for three and a half years and the state refused to do so.” Further, he said “it was, even after winning such a huge court case, an extremely difficult and painful process.”

New Disability Employment Project Delivers Outstanding Results

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) announced this week the success of a national-first disability employment project in Perth. The project, called IncludeAbility, assisted people with disabilities into the workforce, resulting in a 80% success rate. The AHRC ran the three-month employment pilots in Perth in collaboration with Good Sammy Enterprises and Woolworths. Fifteen young people with an intellectual disability were paid award wages to work in customised roles, such as grocery, customer service and bakery. 12 of the 15 participants (80%) accepted ongoing roles with Woolworths at the end of the pilot. The results are significant following the confronting report of the Disability Royal Commission, which found that “many people with disability were systematically ripped off by being paid well below award rates, placed into jobs that did not suit their skills or interests or faced wholesale discrimination in the recruitment process.” The AHRC’s President and Acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, stated that the project “shows great promise for reform in the disability employment space.” Chief Delivery Officer at the Paul Ramsay Foundation, Ben Gales, stated that “working with employers is key to activating quality job opportunities for people with disability.”

Bruce Lehrmann Settles Defamation Case with ABC

Bruce Lehrmann and the ABC have agreed to settle the defamation action in relation to a 2022 National Press Club speech by Brittany Higgins. Mr Lehrmann was to take the ABC, along with Network Ten, to the Federal Court on Wednesday this week. The ABC stated “the proceedings have settled on mutually acceptable, confidential terms, without admission of liability.” The prosecution against Mr Lehrmann was abandoned following juror misconduct. There have been no findings against Mr Lehrmann and he has consistently maintained his innocence. While the ABC reached a settlement with Mr Lehrmann, the defamation action against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson begun on Wednesday this week. Matthew Richardson SC, barrister for Mr Lehrmann, stated that “our client comes here seeking vindication for the defamation that has utterly destroyed him.” Further, Mr Richardson stated “the publication that seared this allegation of rape into the national consciousness was the TV interview.” In relation to Lisa Wilkinson’s 2021 interview with Ms Higgins, Mr Richardson said “the identity of the person referred to must have been perfectly obvious to anyone working in that office.”

International Cricket Council (ICC) Rules Players who Experienced Male Puberty Unable to Compete in International Women’s Cricket

The International Cricket Council (ICC) ruled this week that “any male to female participants who have been through any form of male puberty” are not allowed to partake in international women’s cricket. The decision seemingly occurred in light of the case of Danielle McGahey, who was the first transgender cricketer to participate in an official international match. Australian-born transgender cricketer Danielle McGahey stated that “following the ICC’s decision this morning, it is with a heavy heart that I must say that my international cricketing career is over.” McGahey stated “as quickly as it begun, it must now end” and that ““while I hold my opinions on the ICC’s decision, they are irrelevant.” Further, McGahey said “what matters is the message being sent to millions of trans women today, a message saying that we don’t belong.” Lastly, McGahey promised to “not stop fighting for equality for us in our sport, we deserve the right to play cricket at the highest level, we are not a threat to the integrity or safety of the sport”. Transgender athletes have additionally been banned from participating in elite women’s competitions such as swimming, cycling, athletics, rugby league and rugby union.

Psychosocial Staff Risk Survey at TasNetworks Reveals Bullying and Sexual Assault Concerns

A workplace psychosocial risk survey has uncovered allegations of bullying, assault and sexual assault within Tasmanian electricity distributor TasNetworks. The chief executive, Sean McGoldrick, informed a parliamentary hearing that a consultant was commissioned to conduct a survey and run workshops in relation to psychosocial risks within the workplace. Mr McGoldrick stated that, while the survey found that “the majority of people were in a reasonably good space”, most of the comments raised concerning issues, including bullying, assault and sexual assault. The survey involved 1,050 staff and resulted in more than 2,000 comments. Mr McGoldrick said that “the power of the comments that were in the survey really struck me” and that “at stages I was thinking, ‘is this really the workplace I’m in charge of here and what is happening and why is this happening?’” He said “we’re not talking about the minor end of the scale, we’re talking about small numbers but at the very serious end, so that’s what has given us pause to think we need to address this completely and thoroughly.” Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union organiser Chris Clark said that the results were not surprising. He said “this survey is just another survey in a long line of surveys where it’s been brought to their attention that the culture at TasNetworks is pretty toxic.”

Calls for Independent Student Watchdog to Address Sexual Violence at Australian Universities

The Commonwealth has been urged to establish Australia’s first independent student watchdog in order to address sexual violence on university campus. At a special meeting held on Tuesday with education ministers, a working group called for the establishment of a national ombudsman. Jason Clare, federal education minister, stated that “all students and staff should feel and be safe on campus and in residential colleges.” The head of the working group, Patty Kinnersly, stated that “consultation with experts over the last 10 weeks has been an important part of the process.” She said that “the experiences of students – mostly women – over a long period of time, are frankly shocking” and that “you cannot help but be moved by people going to university to learn… setting up the rest of their lives and that changing in an instant – to not feel they’re being respected or valued does a lot of damage.” Senator Mehreen Faruqi, deputy Greens leader, said that “the ombudsman must have real teeth, be properly resourced and have solid enforcement powers, so the failures of universities and [the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency] are not repeated.”

Bruce Lehrmann Denies Raping Brittany Higgins in Defamation Case

Bruce Lehrmann has admitted to giving “mistaken” evidence to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) during his interview of the sexual assault allegation of Ms Brittany Higgins. The admission was made during cross-examination of his defamation trial against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson. It is the first time that Mr Lehrmann has given evidence in a court about his version of events during the night of the alleged rape. In the interview, Mr Lehrmann said that he “didn’t have any alcohol” in Senator Linda Reynold’s office. However, a video that showed bottles of alcohol on his desk led to him conceding that he was “mistaken there.” Mr Lehrmann stated during cross-examination that “I am denying that I ever made any advance to Ms Higgins.” Further, he said that the attempts made by Network Ten’s producer Angus Llewellyn to reach Mr Lehrmann for comment in relation to The Project interview were “incredibly weak” and that he “saw an email from Mr Angus Llewellyn approximately a week after the airing of The Project.” Mr Lehrmann stated that the broadcast “was the pinnacle… everything flowed from that: losing friends; finances; certain sections of my family haven’t bothered to contact me.” Mr Lehrmann said that “it’s fractured large parts of my life.”