What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 23 October 2023 – 29 October 2023

Two Victorian Hospital Cafes Fined Almost $300,000 For Sexual Harassment of Works

Two hospital cafes have been prosecuted by Worksafe and fined almost $300,000 over the sexual harassment of workers in Victoria. The owner of the two coffee shops was convicted on two charges for “failing to ensure a workplace under his control was safe and without risks to health,” which attracted a fine of $40,000. The man was the sole director of Whitelom Investments Pty Ltd and joint director of Whitelom Pty Ltd, both which were convicted and fined $110,000 and $140,000 respectively. The Melbourne Magistrates Court heard that six workers were verbally and sexually harassed, with one worker aged 16. The offences included groping, touching and sexually intrusive comments. WorkSafe executive director of health and safety Narelle Beer said that “it doesn’t get much lower than a boss who preys on his own young workers, some still at school and starting their first jobs, for his own sexual gratification.” Further, Dr Beer stated that “it is essential that employers not only set clear standards but have policies and procedures to ensure they can prevent, respond to and report such behaviours.” In addition, Dr Beer said that WorkSafe “will not hesitate to prosecute an employer who fails to take their obligation to provide and maintain a safe workplace seriously.”

Aboriginal Legal Service Launches Employment Law Service

The Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) has launched an Employment Law Service this week in New South Wales (NSW). It is the first specialist service in sexual harassment and discrimination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers operated by an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation. The ALS Employment Law Service provides free and confidential legal support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people within any industry or profession in NSW. In addition, ALS will provide community education “to build awareness of what workplace sexual harassment and discrimination looks like and where to get help.” Jason Allan, ALS chairperson, stated that “everyone should be safe and respected at work, but sadly that’s not always the case.” Further, Mr Allan stated “that anyone is subjected to mistreatment at work is unacceptable, but survey data shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience workplace discrimination and sexual harassment at almost double the rate of non-Indigenous workers.” He stated that “they can now contact the ALS for culturally appropriate legal service.” The Employment Law Service has been established with two years of funding from the NSW government in response to the Respect@Work report into sexual harassment within Australian workplaces.

Junior Public Servants in Department of Infrastructure and Transport Made a ‘Hotties List’

Junior public servants in the Department of Infrastructure and Transport’s graduate program allegedly created a “hotties list”, where female colleagues were rated according to their attractiveness. During the budget estimates on Monday this week, the department’s secretary, Jim Betts, was asked about harassment incidents involving staff. Mr Betts stated that the allegations were made “within our graduate program about concerns that some female graduates heard that certain male member of the graduate cohort had assembled a degrading list of women which assessed them by their so-called hotness.” Mr Betts explained that when he received these complaints, he “assembled that graduate cohort and… reminded everybody of the need for respect in the workplace.” Further, he said that the Department has “subsequently undertaken more formal investigations into that.” He stated that “we were unable to substantiate the existence of such a list, which doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It just means we were unable to substantiate it, notwithstanding the fact that we got independent external investigators to assist us in our inquiries.” According to Mr Betts, the department approached the sex discrimination officer for advice in relation to the incident. He said that “we needed to protect the confidentiality and sensitivity of the staff concerned.”

Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson Reaffirm ‘Cooperative Approach’ to Bruce Lehrmann Defamation Claim

Lawyers for Lisa Wilkinson and Network Ten have reaffirmed their ‘cooperative approach’ to the Bruce Lehrmann defamation claim despite a dispute over legal costs. Last week, it was revealed that Lisa Wilkinson had sued Network Ten in relation to a payment of more than $700,000 in legal fees. Ms Wilkinson has alleged that Network Ten had agreed to indemnify her over “the potentially costly defamation case.” The dispute over legal costs was lodged in the Supreme Court of New South Wales, which is a separate jurisdiction to the Bruce Lehrmann defamation trial. Federal Court Justice Michael Lee asked this week why the cost dispute was lodged in a different court. Justice Lee stated that “unless there is some misapprehension about the way federal jurisdiction operates, I’m not sure why a decision was made to commence a proceeding in another court.” Ms Sue Chrysanthou SC, who represents Ms Wilkinson, stated that “we think that removing that issue from these proceedings will ensure that the respondents proper conduct of the defence, which is a cooperative approach from our perspective.” Further, Ms Chrysanthou stated that “we would prefer not to be distracted by that dispute between our clients having regard to the issues in the case before your Honour.”

Bruce Lehrmann Charged with Two Counts of Rape

Bruce Lehrmann was revealed this week as the “high-profile” man charged with raping a woman in Toowoomba two years ago. Mr Lehrmann can now be revealed after a court decided to uphold a Toowoomba magistrate’s ruling by not granting a non-publication order. Mr Lehrmann has been charged with two counts of raping a woman in October 2021. The matter has been before the court since January this year. Mr Lehrmann has not been committed to stand trial. The Queensland law previously prevented him from being named in relation to the Toowoomba rape allegations. However, the State of Queensland introduced new laws in September to “allow the naming of accused sex offenders after they are charged.” Mr Lehrmann was previously charged with raping former staffer Brittany Higgins in Parliament House in 2019 before the trial was abandoned due to juror misconduct. A retrial was not held after concerns were raised in relation to Ms Higgins’ mental health. Mr Lehrmann has consistently maintained his innocence and no findings have been made against him. Magistrate Kelly in her earlier decision stated that, while she accepted the identity of Mr Lehrmann would result in “intense media scrutiny,” the principle of open justice “very much aligned with the public interest.” Further, Magistrate Kelly stated that “otherwise, powerful litigants may come to think they can extract from courts or prosecuting authorities protection greater than that enjoyed by ordinary parties whose problems come before the courts and may be openly reported.”

Laws to Prevent Schools Discriminating Against Gay Teachers Delayed

Legislation to prevent religious schools from discriminating against gay teachers has been delayed and may be abandoned as the Western Australian state government recovers from the aftermath of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act. The Aboriginal Heritage Act resulted in significant backlash, particularly from farmers and pastoralists, which led to repeal. The Equal Opportunity Act may face an uncertain future as the state government hesitates to introduce the new legislation to prevent criticism from faith leaders. A spokeswoman for Mr Quigley described that the state government was “100 per cent committed to new Equal Opportunity legislation.” Further, she said that “we are continuing to engage with stakeholders in relation to this important reform, as legislation is drafted.” The spokeswoman said that “the Australian Law Reform Commission is also due to report in December in relation to federal anti-discrimination law” and “the State Government will consider the report and the Federal Government’s response as drafting continues.”