What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 26 October 2020 – 1 November 2020

Class is Strongest Indicator of Workplace Inclusion

New research conducted by Diversity Council Australia (DCA) has found that ‘class’ is the strongest indicator of workers’ experience of inclusion at work and the indicator most strongly linked to exclusion. Based on survey results of over 3,000 Australian workers, the study looked at nine diversity indicators. These include ‘Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background, age, caring status, class, cultural background, disability status, gender, religion, and sexual orientation and gender identity.’ ‘As someone who has been an advocate for workplace equality for over two decades, I know that class is something that we haven’t considered,’ DCA chief executive Lisa Annese said. ‘This research shows that we can no longer ignore class, and need to start addressing it to build truly inclusive workplaces,’ she added.

Australian Defence Force Paid out $50m in Sexual Abuse Claims in Last 3 Years

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed that the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has spent nearly $50 million on payouts and legal costs for sexual abuse claims in the last three years. The request revealed that the ADF finalised 183 sexual abuse claims between the 2017-18 and 2019-20, spending a total of $49,961,204.72. An ADF spokesperson said the organisation ‘does not tolerate sexual misconduct and is committed to holding perpetrators to account.’ ‘Defence undertakes a range of measures to prevent, manage and respond to sexual abuse in the ADF,’ they added. The spokesperson also said that the ADF is taking steps to change the culture to prevent sexual misconduct and encourage victims to report and seek support services.

Inquiry Launched into Ambulance Victoria Due to Significant Complaints of Sexual Harassment and Bullying

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHR) has launched an inquiry into allegations of discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment within Ambulance Victoria. The inquiry comes after multiple complainants came forward with stories of workplace sexual abuse, sexism from senior managers and bullying causing mental health issues. One complainant said she had been suicidal after managers refused to believe she was still breastfeeding and required somewhere to store her breast milk. Another horrific account detailed a manager telling a female paramedic he would tie her up and rape her while they were driving together in a remote area. Ambulance Victoria chief executive Tony Walker and board chair Ken Lay raised these concerns with VEOHR Commissioner Kristen Hilton. Mr Walker said ‘like many Victorians, I am distressed and deeply disappointed to read reports of bullying, harassment and discrimination against women in my organisation.’ ‘I want to be very clear that these behaviours and actions have no place in the Ambulance Victoria I lead. They will simply not be tolerated,’ he said. Mr Walker said Ambulance Victoria had, in recent years, ‘worked hard with various external organisations to address some deep cultural challenges. It is distressing to hear that despite all this work, there are still colleagues who don’t feel safe or respected.’ ‘Today this stops. I want to thank those who have bravely spoken out for their courage. I ask that they continue to do so and know they will be supported,’ he concluded.

93% of Women Working in Agriculture Have Been Sexually Harassed

Rural Business Tasmania (RBT) and Tasmanian Women in Agriculture (TWiA) have announced the launch of a series of tools ‘to help prevent, respond and reduce sexual harassment and other forms of bullying harming rural workers.’ The initiative follows a 2018 national survey, which found that 93% of women working in agriculture have been sexually harassed in some form.

Case of Bullying by Senator Lambie turns into Bullying Allegations Against Complainants

Federal Court Judge John Snaden has heard that workers felt ‘bullied,’ ‘manipulated’ and ‘mentally abused’ by Senator Jacqui Lambie’s former chief of staff and office manager. Rob and Fern Messenger, Ms Lambie’s former chief of staff and office manager, lodged an unfair dismissal claim against the Senator three years ago. The Messengers claim they were unfairly dismissed by Senator Lambie in May 2017 after complaining about workplace health and safety. The Messengers gave evidence before the Federal Court regarding Senator Lambie’s use of ‘vile, profane and vulgar language,’ her tendency to discuss her sex life in the office and a heated exchange in which Ms Messenger claimed she feared for her safety. The Messengers also called Senator Lambie’s electoral officer Tammy Tyrrell to give evidence. However, Ms Tyrrell’s evidence pointed to unfavourable behaviour on the Messenger’s behalf. Ms Tyrrell said Mr Messenger ‘could be overpowering and intimidating’ and once asked her to hang up on ‘a gentleman who was suicidal.’ Ms Tyrrell added that the staff ‘were all feeling bullied and manipulated, mentally abused, ignored, made to feel like we weren’t valued [by the Messengers], but we loved our jobs and wanted to work for [Senator Lambie].’ The case is now into its second week and will likely enter into next year.

Number of Complaints by Indigenous People to NT Anti-discrimination Commission Doubled in Last Year

The NT Anti-Discrimination Commissioner’s annual report reveals that the number of discrimination complaints lodged by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Northern Territory has nearly doubled in the past year. The report shows that Indigenous people lodged 103 complaints in the most recent financial year. Most of the complaints related to race discrimination by workplaces. While the finding is concerning, Commissioner Sally Sievers said the spike did not necessarily indicate an increase in discrimination. ‘We do see that as a really big positive,’ and an indication that Indigenous people are more willing to report issues, she said. ‘It shows that Aboriginal people have confidence in the process, and also shows that some of the work that we’ve been doing over a lot of years is actually starting to pay off,’ Ms Sievers added.

Release of Royal Commission Inquiry into Disability

The Royal Commission into experiences of people with disability has released it’s interim report. The 561-page report, which follows public hearings between November 2019 and July 2020, found barriers for people with disability exist on every level – from environmental and institutional challenges to community attitudes.