What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 28 August 2023 – 3 September 2023

Fortescue Metal Groups Dismisses 60 Workers for Bullying, Sexual Harassment and Workplace Misconduct

Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) has dismissed approximately sixty workers in relation to bullying, sexual harassment and workplace misconduct over the last financial year. According to FMG’s sustainability report released on Monday, 160 potential code breaches were investigated. 67 of the potential breaches were substantiated, resulting in the termination of 56 workers. While the report did not break down the dismissals by the type of breach, 51 of the 160 cases related to sexual harassment. Further, 26 were in relation to bullying and harassment, while 7 related to discrimination. According to the article, the number of potential breaches of its code of conduct have tripled. The increase in complaints coincides with Australian employees “becoming more confident that they will be supported by employers when they report inappropriate or unethical behaviour.” 60 of the investigations were reported through the company’s whistle-blower hotline.

Bruce Lehrmann and Brittany Higgins to Give Evidence in Defamation Trial

Bruce Lehrmann and Brittany Higgins will take to the stand to provide evidence in an upcoming defamation trial. Mr Lehrmann commenced the defamation case against Network 10 and Lisa Wilkinson in relation to a 2021 coverage of Ms Higgins’ allegations of rape. Further, Mr Lehrmann is suing the ABC in relation to a live broadcast of a National Press Club address by Ms Higgins. While Mr Lehrmann was not named in the report, he claims that he was identifiable and that “there were four defamatory meanings in their publication implying he raped Ms Higgins at Parliament House in March 2019.” Mr Lehrmann has consistently denied the allegations. The trial is listed on 20 November and is expected to take place over four weeks. According to the article, Ms Lehrmann’s lawyers had not received an affidavit from Ms Higgins. However, Justice Lee stated that he wanted to hear Mr Lehrmann and Ms Higgins provide evidence “viva voce.” Mr Lehrmann will take to the stand for the first time as he did not provide evidence during his criminal trial. In May of this year, Mr Lehrmann abandoned his defamation case against News Corp’s News Life Media and Samantha Maiden. According to the article, News Life Media was not required to issue an apology or pay damages. Further, the articles in question have remained online. Mr Lehrmann’s trial was abandoned last year due to juror misconduct. The charges against Mr Lehrmann were dropped due to concerns for Ms Higgins’ mental health.

Government of South Australia Releases New Regulations under Work Health and Safety Act to Provide Guidance to Manage Risk of Psychological Injuries in the Workplace

The Government of South Australia has announced this week that it will release new regulations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012. The new regulations will “help provide better guidance to workers and employers on how to manage the risks of psychological injuries and illnesses in the workplace.” The statement describes psychosocial hazards as “hazards that may cause psychological harm.” According to the statement, this may include “excessive workload demands, to exposure to traumatic events and materials, to issues such as bullying, harassment and sexual discrimination in the workplace.” The new regulations are set to come into effect in December 2023. Further, the new regulations will be supported by the “Code of Practice on Managing psychosocial hazards at work.” Glenn Farrell, Executive Director at SafeWork SA, stated that “the new regulations and Code of Practice will support business to be proactive in ensuring their most valuable assets – their workers – are free from harm at work.”

Report into Sexual Misconduct at University of Sydney Released

A report released this week by the University of Sydney on Monday has found that more than 100 employees and students have experienced sexual assaults and harassment last year. The report aims to “improve transparency and reduce barriers to victims coming forward.” According to the article, there were 121 reports of sexual misconduct, which involved 74 cases of sexual assault and 47 cases of sexual harassment. 55 of the 121 reports were “university related conduct,” meaning that the incident occurred on campus or that the perpetrator was a student or staff member. The remaining 66 cases were “non-university related conduct,” meaning that the student or staff member was the victim off campus. Vice Chancellor Mark Scott stated that “we pledged to be transparent and share the full story about sexual misconduct in our community. Today, we are upholding this promise.” Further, he stated that “given the considerable doubt surrounding the university’s efforts in this area, this report is a significant opportunity to reaffirm our commitment.” According to the report, 23 students made a formal complaint, while 98 students made a “disclosure,” which ultimately notified the university of what had occurred. The report details the initiatives completed in 2022, including a roadmap to the prevention of sexual misconduct, as well as an online module rolled out to new students.

Australian Federal Police Received 28 Allegations of Misconduct by Parliamentarians

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has received 28 allegations of misconduct in relation to parliamentarians, their staff or “official establishments” in the past year since the claims made by Brittany Higgins against Bruce Lehrmann. The information comes to light following a Senate question on notice. According to the article, the AFP have declined to describe further details, including which state or territory the reports were passed to for further investigation to take place. AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw stated that 40 reports of misconduct had been made between February and May 2021. Three of the 40 misconduct reports published in May 2021 were in relation to “incidents alleged to have occurred inside Australian Parliament House.” No other information was disclosed in relation to the 28 allegations. Greens Senator David Shoebridge stated that there should be greater transparency in relation to the investigations. Mr Shoebridge stated that “this is information that should be proactively published, with sufficient context to understand the nature of the complaints.” Further, he said that “we know that secrecy mixed with power is never healthy and parliament is no exception to that rule.”

Shane Drumgold Commences Legal Action against ACT Government, Board of Inquiry and Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury

Former Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold has commenced legal proceedings against the ACT government, Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury and the board of inquiry into Bruce Lehrmann’s prosecution. The inquiry was held to determine the conduct of criminal justice agencies in the prosecution against Mr Lehrmann. Mr Lehrmann was accused of raping Ms Brittany Higgins at Parliament House in 2019, however his trial was abandoned last year due to juror misconduct. Mr Lehrmann has consistently denied the allegations. The Sofronoff report, released earlier this month, found that Mr Drumgold generated “scandalous” and “wholly false” allegations and had engaged in “serious misconduct.” Further, the report found that Mr Drumgold “knowingly lied” to the chief justice in relation to a meeting he had with police officers and reporter Lisa Wilkinson. Mr Rattenbury has stated that Mr Drumgold “has concerns with the nature of the report, and he is seeking to challenge those findings against him.” The case is listed before the ACT Supreme Court for September 14. The statement of claim filed in the ACT Supreme Court says that the inquiry was “invalid and of no effect.” Following the release of the report, Mr Drumgold stated that “while I acknowledge I made mistakes, I strongly dispute that I engaged in deliberate or underhanded conduct in the trial or that I was dishonest.” ACT Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee criticised the ongoing fallout, stating “how many more taxpayer dollars will it cost every single Canberran because they’re [the ACT government] fighting off lawsuits? That is actually where the genuine question is.”

Walter Sofronoff Denies Breaking Law in Releasing Bruce Lehrmann Inquiry

Walter Sofronoff, the chair of the inquiry into the case against Bruce Lehrmann, has denied breaking the law when he provided copies of the report to two journalists prior to it being released by the government. The ACT government has stated that it is seeking legal advice in relation to the provision of the report to a media outlet before it was handed the ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr. In the letter addressed to Mr Barr, legal representatives for Mr Sofronoff claim that there had been no breach of the law because “documents” under the relevant act did not include the final report. Further, lawyers for Mr Sofronoff claimed that the act had “no prohibition against the provision of a copy of the report on a confidential basis.” The letter invited Mr Barr to release a public statement to correct the record. The leak of the report has generated controversy, with Mr Barr expressing his “extreme disappointment” that the report had been leaked, stating that it had been a “significant lapse of judgment” by Mr Sofronoff. Further, Mr Barr stated that “this matter has broad-reaching consequences, and greater care should have been taken in the handling of the report.” He said that “Mr Sofronoff also suggested I seek legal advice on the matter. The government has done so, and we will act on that legal advice.”

Study Finds Approximately 50% of Migrant and Refugee Women Experienced Workplace Sexual Harassment

A study released this week by the Australian National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) has found that approximately 50% of migrant and refugee women in Australia have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the last 5 years. According to the article, it is the first study into “migrant and refugee women’s experiences and responses to workplace sexual harassment.” The survey involved 701 participants and found that almost 40% of respondents had told no one about the sexual harassment because they felt responsible, were uncertain about what to do or were concerned about how it may impact on their employment. The CEO of ANROWS stated that “the reality is that for many migrant women and refugee women who experience sexual harassment, it is not only sexist, but racist.” The report found that women who were employed in temporary or casual roles were “more likely to experience workplace sexual harassment” and that “many believed their race or religion were motivating factors for the harassment.” Further, a third of the respondents were “threatened or warned not to report the crimes.” The report also found that those in senior roles engaged in sexually harassing behaviour in the workplace the most frequently, “followed closely by clients.”

Former Perth Modern Principal Abandons Unfair Dismissal Case

The former principal of Perth Modern has abandoned her unfair dismissal claim against the school. Mr Lois Joll was dismissed by the Education Department in April of this year following an allegation that she had “failed to follow financial management policies when building a new 700-seat auditorium that opened in 2021.” Mr Joll lodged an unfair dismissal case with the WA Industrial Relations Commission but has subsequently decided to not pursue the case. The result is that the allegations against Ms Joll will not be aired publicly. Perth Modern is a public school where students compete for a limited place via an entry exam. Principals Federation of WA president Bevan Ripp stated that “the fact is that the school has an absolutely outstanding state-of-the-art auditorium that’s come about through the initiative of the principal at the time.”

Report Finds Workplace of South Australian Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions ‘Dysfunctional’ and ‘Broken’

A report has found that the workplace of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in South Australia has a “dysfunctional and broken” culture. Further, the report finds that staff “don’t feel safe, valued, heard or seen.” The report, commissioned by the chief of the attorney-general’s office, stated that the organisation was “ill-equipped to manage the realities of a modern ODPP.” Attorney-General Kyam Maher stated that it was an “exceptionally difficult” place to work, saying “day in and day out, you’re dealing with the worst of humanity – the worst of what humans do to each other.” Ms Maher stated that all 20 recommendations in the report have been accepted by the government. The report found that 80% of current workers considered leaving the ODPP after experiencing “pressure and distress they are no longer prepared to accept.” Further, the report found that “communication slowed, and decision-making became less transparent” following the appointment of the current Director of Public Prosecutions, Martin Hinton KC. The report said that “respondents described the director’s frequent and fleeting thought bubbles in relation to his ideas to reform the office – ideas that many were initially excited to hear about but seem to go nowhere.” However, Mr Maher stated that “Martin’s one of the sharpest legal minds in the state.”

Government of South Australia Releases New Support for Domestic Violence Victim-Survivors

In a statement released by the Government of South Australia on Friday this week, victim-survivors employed in the public sector at a state or local level will be able to access 15 paid days leave for matters in relation to domestic or family violence. Further, new provisions under the State’s anti-discrimination legislation will come into effect, “meaning it will be against the law to discriminate against people in all areas of public life covered by the Equal Opportunity Act, because they are experiencing or have experienced domestic or family violence.” Kyam Maher stated that “giving public servants the ability to take leave for reasons related to family or domestic violence is a small but important way of giving people the time and space they need without impacting on their employment.” Further, he stated that “the anti-discrimination reforms also give victim-survivors peace of mind in knowing that there are protections and processes available to them if they experience discrimination in the context of work… because of circumstances that are entirely beyond their control.”