What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 28 March – 04 April 2021

Ministers Get New Cabinet Roles

In response to the series of scandals relating to the treatment of women within Parliament house, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a cabinet reshuffle. Christian Porter has been made Industry minister while Peter Dutton will replace Linda Reynolds in the defence portfolio. Senator Reynolds, who is on medical leave, will become government services minister after coming under heavy fire for her handling of Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations. Michaelia Cash has been promoted to Attorney-General to replace Mr Porter, who lost his job as the nation’s first law officer after launching a defamation action against the ABC. Karen Andrews will replace Mr Dutton, who is also taking Mr Porter’s role as leader of the house, as home affairs minister. The Prime Minister also announced a new taskforce, which Marise Payne, the Minister for Women and Foreign Affairs, was to lead. In announcing the change, Mr Morrison said Senator Payne would be the “prime minister for women”, a remark he later had to clarify as the “primary minister for women”.

Brittany Higgins Hits Back at Sacked Radio Host

Jeremy Cordeaux, one of Adelaide’s longest-serving media personalities, was on Monday sacked by popular talkback station FiveAA for comments regarding Brittany Higgins, who says she was raped in a senior government minister’s office. The allegations, which were made public in February, have led to intense scrutiny of the culture within Parliament House and the treatment of women more broadly. During his breakfast show, the veteran radio host labelled her a “silly girl” who “should have her bottom smacked”. Ms Higgins states that this rhetoric isn’t helpful, especially given the cultural reckoning about consent that is taking place across the country and has thanked a South Australian radio station for taking action against the local presenter. In a statement read on-air on Monday morning, FiveAA management described Cordeaux’s comments as “completely inappropriate and offensive”. The station also confirmed Cordeaux’s employment had been “terminated”.

Former Labor MP Kate Ellis leads Group of Female Politicians Lifting Lid on ‘Toxic Workplace Culture’ in Parliament House

It wasn’t until Ms Kate Ellis left politics in 2019 that she realised how “toxic” the culture in Parliament House had been. She decided to reach out to other women — MPs and staffers across the political spectrum — to compare notes, and what came to light “would horrify the public”. Changing an entrenched and destructive culture in a workplace where women are still a significant minority isn’t simple. But Ms Ellis believes silence is no longer an option.
The stories tell a tale of systemic inequality, sexism, casual misogyny and sexual harassment and include testimonies from: Greens Senator, Sarah Hanson-Young; former member for Chrisholm, Julia Banks; federal member for McPherson, Karen Andrews; the Opposition Minister for Education and Women, Tanya Plibersek, and; former senator Natasha Stott Despoja.

PM Under Pressure to Sack Andrew Laming

Scott Morrison has been grilled over a “cynical move” by allowing Andrew Laming to remain in the Coalition as the Prime Minister announced a cabinet reshuffle aimed at promoting women. Embattled MP Dr Laming is on leave while he undergoes empathy training after admitting to abusing female constituents online. In one incident, Dr Laming was also accused of photographing a female worker bent over in a landscape supply business with her underwear exposed. He has announced he will not contest the next election. But despite announcing a cabinet overhaul focused on elevating women on Monday, Mr Morrison rejected growing calls to expel Dr Laming to the crossbench. Channel 7 political editor Mark Riley told the Prime Minister “in any other workplace (Mr Laming) would be gone”, questioning whether he was being retained because “you can’t afford to lose (him)”.

Nationals MP Anne Webster Lodges Complaint Against Man Who Allegedly Harassed her in Parliament House

Victorian Nationals MP Anne Webster has lodged a complaint with the National Party and its leader, Michael McCormack, against a man who allegedly harassed her in Parliament House last week. She says was shocked at the treatment, especially given the recent scrutiny of inappropriate behaviour towards women in her workplace. Dr Webster does not want to go into details of what happened or who did it, but she alleges it happened in the House of Representatives chamber. She wants to use her experience to help guide change as she liaises with past and present Nationals staffers and politicians, as part of the inquiry into Parliament’s workplace culture.

‘I Would Kill to be Sexually Harassed at the Moment’: Liberal Teena McQueen Jokes

Liberal Party federal vice-president Teena McQueen said, “I would kill to be sexually harassed at the moment,” according to three senior Liberal women who joined her at a meeting to discuss the NSW branch’s new code of conduct. Ms McQueen, who says she did not make this exact comment, has apologised for an attempt at humour about herself. She said that during the meeting she “made a throwaway line, that ‘when women reach my age, we don’t have to worry about being sexually assaulted’.” Two of the attendees at the meeting also told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age they heard Ms McQueen say, “Let’s talk about women not getting drunk at work” in comments that left other party officials stunned and outraged. But Ms McQueen told the Herald and The Age, “I don’t drink, never have and [I] commented [during the meeting] ‘I don’t understand excessive drinking in any work environment, let alone Parliament House.’” She added this was “absolutely no reference to anyone” though other people at the meeting understood it to be a reference to former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, who had recently come forward alleging she had been raped in Parliament House.

EY Staff Allege Bullying as Firm Threatens ‘Dismissal’ of Leaker

Current and former members of EY’s troubled marketing and communications team have disputed the firm’s claim there were no formal bullying complaints in the lead-up to an external review that found deep-seated problems in the way they operated. The review had found widespread concerns among staff about a “nice” culture that felt “good day-to-day” but was in reality “undermining” and “conflict avoidant”. Staff also complained about overwork and leaders who were “overly demanding, undermining, [displayed] passiveness and [had interpersonal] relational issues”. The Australian Financial Review has been told there have been at least three formal bullying complaints made about the team, with one member of the team formally counselled about their behaviour on two occasions. EY has also launched an investigation into how the results of a review were leaked and noted that anyone found responsible for the “inappropriate sharing of firm information” could be fired.

Allens Promoted Associate who Sexually Harassed Junior Lawyer

Global law firm Allens promoted senior associate Timothy Leschke through its ranks and offered him highly sought-after overseas secondments despite internally disciplining him for sexually harassing a junior lawyer in his team. Fiona Thatcher, who was then a junior lawyer in Mr Leschke’s infrastructure projects team, said he harassed her late on a Friday night in July 2015 when he sent her a series of text messages aggressively demanding she have sex with him. He then showed up at her apartment complex and continuously rang her security buzzer. Mr Leschke retained oversight of junior female staff members within his Brisbane-based team after the harassment – including over his victim, until she left the firm five months after the incident . But Allens has stood by its response despite acknowledging its processes for handling such complaints have “evolved significantly” into a “better system” since the incident. Mr Leschke said he deeply regretted his conduct and had changed since.

Australia’s New Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews Accused of Bullying

New Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, who openly called for change during the recent turmoil over the treatment of women in parliament, has been accused of bullying. The claims have been made by a female senior adviser, who’s now reportedly on stress leave after complaining about the workplace culture in the minister’s office. The Australian reports the woman made an initial written complaint in August and another in March when Andrews was still industry, science and technology minister. “The manner in which I have been treated is disrespectful, humiliating and demeaning …,” the woman claims in the March letter, cited by The Australian. A spokesman for Andrews told The Australian the minister rejected the claims.

Laming is Being Investigated by Cops for Allegedly Taking A Non-Consensual Lewd Pic of a Woman

Federal Coalition MP Andrew Laming is set to face police investigation after allegations that he took a non-consensual lewd photo of a woman in Queensland. Crystal White began the process of lodging a formal complaint against Laming at the Cleveland Police Station. She alleges that Laming took a photo of her behind while she was stacking a bar fridge at a landscaping supplies company in Queensland without her consent. The alleged incident took place in 2019. Witnesses, including a co-worker, have come forward to support Crystal’s claims, with one colleague alleging that their manager saw the ordeal take place and allegedly took no action. The news comes after Laming was ordered to take an empathy training course by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. But despite multiple allegations of bullying and harassment against Laming in recent weeks, he is yet to be sacked by Scott Morrison. However, he has announced that he will be resigning at the next election.

NSW Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen Resigns After Being Accused of Rape

NSW MP Michael Johnsen, who is accused of raping a sex worker in the Blue Mountains in 2019, has resigned from state parliament. Mr Johnsen was last week removed from the Nationals and Coalition party rooms, and was suspended from the National Party, when the allegation, which he denies, was made in question time. An ABC investigation revealed the Upper Hunter MP offered the sex worker $1000 to attend State Parliament for sex, and sent the woman a string of lewd text messages and an obscene video while Parliament was sitting. The NSW Police Sex Crimes Squad is investigating the alleged sexual assault. The woman made a complaint to NSW Police about the alleged assault in September last year after writing to her local MP, Ms Doyle, about Mr Johnsen. Mr Johnsen said he made the decision to resign with a “heavy heart” and was confident he would be cleared of the alleged rape.

Melbourne University Loses Funding Partner Over Sexual Harassment Case

A major funding partner of the University of Melbourne, US-based Bloomberg Philanthropies, has withdrawn its support after revelations about the university’s secretive handling of a sexual harassment investigation into a high-profile academic. Bloomberg Philanthropies was a key financial backer of the University of Melbourne-led international “Data for Health” project which was designed to improve the cause of death reporting in low to middle income cities around the world. The project was also funded by the Australian government. Professor Lopez, 69, had retained his roles as Laureate Professor and Rowden-White chair of global health despite an independent workplace investigation finding two years ago that he had sexually harassed his young female colleague Ashley Frederes. Bloomberg Philanthropies stated that “when we learnt of these details, and of University of Melbourne’s failure to issue a punishment commensurate with its findings, we quickly began efforts to end our partnership with them.” Those efforts were finalised in an email sent to project partners – including the World Health Organisation – saying they had learned the details of Ms Frederes’ complaint and the results of the investigation.

Former Cattlemen’s Boss Sues for Unfair Dismissal

The Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association’s former chief executive officer Ashley Manicaros has taken court action against both the organisation and its previous president Chris Nott for wrongful dismissal. Mr Manicaros, who served as CEO from August 2018 until last December, has filed a claim in the Federal Circuit Court, claiming he was terminated because of his political opinions. He is alleging a breach of the Anti Discrimination Act and a breach of the Fair Work Act. The NTCA said it could not make a comment on the action. The case is due to be heard on June 4.