What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 22 June 2020 – 28 June 2020

Inquiry Finds Judge Dyson Sexually Harassed 6 Female Associates

The legal profession was rocked this week after an inquiry found that legal heavyweight Dyson Heydon sexually harassed six High Court Associates. The High Court commissioned the independent inquiry into the now disgraced judge following allegations that he acted inappropriately towards his young female assistants. Rachael Patterson Collins, one of the complainants, started as Justice Heydon’s Associate in 2005 when she was 26 years old. In May 2005, they attended a dinner during which the judge drank heavily. After dinner, she drove Mr Heydon home. There, Ms Collins confided in him that she was being mistreated by the other Associates and was having a difficult time adjusting to life in Canberra. She then claimed he reached over and began ‘caressing’ her hand. ‘Instead of helping me, he tried to take advantage of my vulnerability and I had to leave my position early,’ Ms Collins told the Herald. After announcing her departure, Mr Heydon persistently invited her to have dinner and drinks with him alone. During her leaving drinks, the inquiry noted that he ‘stood close and, looking down at her, said: “Can I kiss you?”.’

Chief Justice Susan Kiefel said the findings of the inquiry were ‘extreme[ly] concern[ing].’ In a statement published to the High Court’s website, Kiefel CJ said Australia’s Highest Court is ‘ashamed this could have happened.’ ‘We have made a sincere apology to the six women whose complaints were borne out and we know that it would have been difficult to come forward. Their accounts of their experiences at the time have been believed,’ her Honour added. ‘I have appreciated the opportunity to talk with a number of these women about their experiences and to apologise to them in person. I have also valued their insights and suggestions for change that they have shared with the court,’ she concluded.

Maurice Blackburn has instructed three of the female complainants to pursue claims for compensation against Mr Heydon and the Commonwealth. Maurice Blackburn indicated that Mr Heydon’s repeated sexual harassment was ‘known to many people and caused significant harm and trauma to clients.’ Since the conclusion of the inquiry, other legal giants were identified as privy to Mr Heydon’s sexual misconduct. This includes former High Court justices Gleeson and McHugh.

Australian Legal System Commits to Improving Policies to Protect People from Sexual Harassment and Bullying

Following shocking revelations of sexual harassment at Australia’s apex court, the legal profession has committed to improving policies to ‘protect lawyers.’ This comes after the High Court set out a list of recommendations, prompting lower courts across Australia to review their policies around sexual harassment and bullying. NSW Chief Justice Tom Bathurst AC said the new policies will ensure all judges and their administrative staff understand what constitutes unacceptable behaviour. ‘The NSW Supreme Court has been in the process for a number of months of developing an internal bespoke policy for judges and judicial staff working in judges’ chambers,’ Bathurst CJ said. ‘It is anticipated the policy will be finalised by the end of the week,’ he added. Bathurst CJ said that since his judicial appointment in 2011, he has not received or had notice of any claims or complaints of sexual harassment in the NSW Supreme Court. The ACT Supreme Court has also followed suit, stating that its policies and procedures are under review. In Queensland, policies are being developed to enable administrative staff to have open and transparent conversations with three designated judges, including the Chief Justice. Similarly, Victoria Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Ferguson said she has collaborated with colleagues to develop a bespoke education program on harassment, bullying and advanced court leadership. The program is soon to be rolled out.

Female Politician Claims She Was Sexually Harassed by Judge Dyson Also

In a fresh bout of allegations, Canberra politician Elizabeth Lee claimed she was sexually harassed by former High Court Judge Dyson Heydon at a 2013 Ball. Ms Lee alleged that at the University of Canberra ball, Mr Heydon made unwanted sexual advances. This included propositioning and pressuring her to go to his hotel room in a sexually suggestive way. Ms Lee worked as a lecturer at the time and told the ABC she felt ‘helpless’ and questioned her self-worth. ‘I just remember so clearly feeling helpless, feeling in shock and feeling so alone,’ she said.

Ms Lee, a Liberal Member for Kurrajong in the ACT Legislative Assembly, was inspired to speak out following the High Court’s independent inquiry. ‘It must have taken so much for these women to speak up and get the ball rolling on the investigation that has led to this being uncovered,’ Ms Lee said. ‘And my heart really did go out to them and when I first read about their circumstances… I suppose it flooded back memories of that moment that I encountered seven years ago,’ she added. ‘Whilst I didn’t have the courage back then to report or to talk to anyone about it, if I now in my position, with the voice that I have, don’t do it when this second time has arrived, then will I look back in seven years’ time and think “I really did a disservice to some of the younger women who may be going through the same torment”?’ she said. Mr Heydon has categorically denied all allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. His lawyers told the media that ‘if any conduct of his has caused offence, that result was inadvertent and unintended, and he apologises for any offence caused.’

New Report Shows More Female Leaders Better for Post Covid-19 Economy

A report, Gender Equity Insights 2020: Delivering on Business Outcomes released by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre (BCEC) and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), shows that more women on Boards and in senior leadership positions drives better company performance, greater productivity and greater profitability. The research showed that an increase in the share of female ‘top-tier’ managers by 10 percentage points or more led to a 6.6 per cent increase in the market value of Australian ASX-listed companies, worth the equivalent of AUD$104.7 million.

Report author and BCEC Principal Research Fellow Associate Professor Rebecca Cassells said leadership has never been so important, especially when the world is dealing with the fallout and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. “When businesses are looking to a post COVID-19 world, our research shows that having a female CEO has the potential to help companies navigate through the crisis,” Associate Professor Cassells said. “In this report, we have identified a compelling causal relationship between an increase in the share of women in leadership and subsequent improvements in company performance.”

Libby Lyons, Director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, hailed the BCEC research as a significant contribution to the international business case for gender equality. “Using the Agency’s world-leading dataset, this ground-breaking study has provided important new evidence of the crucial need for improving gender diversity in company leadership. As we ‘snap forward’ to a post-COVID-19 economy, this report demonstrates that CEOs and senior executives must include gender equality as they develop recovery plans,” Ms Lyons said. Workplace gender equality is not just about fairness, it also has a compelling commercial imperative.”