What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 3 April 2023 – 9 April 2023

Independent Review Finds Sexual Harassment in Australian Antarctic Division

An independent review into the workplace culture at the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) has uncovered that 24% of female workers have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Further, of this 24% who experienced sexual harassment, 55% occurred in Antarctica, with 80% of incidents remaining unreported. The review was released on Monday this week and details that 43% of respondents did not feel safe to raise issues and 34% said they had experienced workplace bullying. The review further found that the perpetrators of sexual harassment and bullying “face few consequences.” According to one response, a station leader provided an award for the man who “tried the hardest to get into a woman’s pants.” Several recommendations were made in the review, including “a new reporting system for complaints” and implementing a “zero-harm approach to workplace health and safety.” In response to review, the Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water (DCEEW) have promised reforms, such as “psychological assessments and debriefings for returning Antarctic expeditioners.”

Football Australia to Introduce Trans-Inclusive Policies Following NSW Harassment Cases

Football Australia has announced its intention to accelerate the development of a new trans and gender-diverse inclusion policy in Australia. The introduction of the new policy follows after an Australian anti-trans campaigner targeted several women footballers in New South Wales, including distributing private information on an online platform. New South Wales police have stated that there is a current investigation into Kirralie Smith, the director of Binary Australia. Binary Australia, an anti-trans lobby group, is similarly being investigated by Hate Crimes NSW, and has been listed as an extremist group by the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. Presently, Football Australia’s policy aligns with the guidelines of the Australian Human Rights Commission, whereby “registered players can participate in the competition that aligns with their gender identity.” The recent alleged harassment of football players has accelerated the introduction of the new inclusion policy for Football Australia, who is working with “footballing stakeholders, industry experts, medical research and advocates” to develop the policy. Football Australia intends to release the new policy prior to the commencement of the Women’s World Cup in July of this year.

KPMG Worker Made Redundant After Reporting Bullying in Workplace

A former worker of KPMG was made redundant this year following her complaint of workplace bullying. The anonymous woman alleged that she was “harassed by her co-workers, who isolated her from work projects” and had experienced “belittling comments about her physical appearance.” Upon the woman’s return from two weeks of annual leave, she was unexpectedly made redundant and had reportedly felt suicidal and had experienced a panic attack. According to the article, KPMG found nothing to corroborate her claims of bullying, despite conducting several employee interviews. The HR team had informed the worker that her “skillset was unsuitable”, despite an email circulating at the time describing how her particular skill set was in demand. The claim follows recent allegations of a “toxic” workplace culture at the Big Four accounting firms (including KPMG), along with the recent death of Ernest & Young employee Aishwarya Venkatachalam, who claimed her life at the Sydney office following complaints of bullying and racism last year.

Human Rights Commissioner States that Proposed Indigenous Voice Undermines Equality

Last week, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) released a statement in support of the Prime Minister’s proposed wording for the incorporation of an Indigenous Voice in the Australian Constitution. Following this announcement, the current Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Findley released an opinion piece discussing whether the Voice “was constitutional overreach” and inconsistent with human rights principles such as equality and non-discrimination. Further, the Commissioner described that the amendment would go “beyond the rights set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)” and that the wording “creates constitutional uncertainty in terms of its interpretation and operation.” In response, President of the AHRC stated that there was “clear international guidance” that the amendment would be aligned with human rights principles, with five former human rights commissioners also describing that Commissioner Findley’s opinion piece was “likely to mislead Australians” about the introduction of an Indigenous Voice. The statements surfaced following the Labor government’s decision to amend the constitution through a referendum, with the aim to “ensure Australia is fulfilling its role” to protect and respect the human rights of all its people.

Queensland to Abolish Controversial Clause Used to Justify Discrimination

It was announced on Monday this week that a controversial clause in Queensland’s anti-discrimination laws will be abolished by the Queensland government. The clause, which has been used in the past to justify discrimination against transgender, gay and unmarried individuals, will be part of the overhaul of the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act. According to the article, the ‘genuine occupational requirement’ clause in the Act “enables faith-based schools to discriminate against teachers based on their sexuality, pregnancy, relationship status and gender identity.” The Queensland Human Rights Commission recommended that the clause be abolished and replaced with an exemption that will allow certain organisations to discriminate on the basis that the “teaching, observance or practice of a particular religion is a genuine occupational requirement.” The government stated that there will be further discussion regarding employment by religious entities “to ensure the proposed new Anti-Discrimination Act strikes the right balance.”

Jury Finds Jewish Principal Malka Leifer Guilty of Sexual Abuse of Former Students

Malka Leifer, the former principal of a Jewish girls’ school in Australia, has been found guilty of sexually abusing former students Dassi Elrich and Elly Saper this week. A gag order issued by the presiding Judge expired as the jury handed down their verdict on Monday, where it was revealed that Leifer had fled back to Israel in 2008 “after allegations of the sexual abuse of students first began swirling.” According to the article, the Victorian Police had attempted to commence extradition proceedings but were prevented from doing so “when an Israeli court found she was mentally unfit to stand trial.” Leifer’s house arrest was lifted and she “quietly continued on with her life.” Footage obtained in 2018 demonstrated Leifer “living a fully functional and social life”, leading to suspicions that she was “feigning her mental illness.” In 2020, a panel of psychiatrists found that Leifer had been faking her mental illness to avoid returning to Australia. Leifer was placed under arrest and arrived in Australia on January 25, 2021. The verdict of the jury involves incidents that occurred between 2004 and 2007 during school trips and private education sessions. Leifer is due to return to court on April 26 for a pre-sentence hearing.

Sydney Silk Reprimanded After Sexual Harassment and Bullying

Sydney silk Franco Corsaro has been reprimanded by the NSW Office of the Legal Services Commissioner for “sexual harassment and workplace bullying.” According to the article, Corsaro was reprimanded following a decision of “unsatisfactory professional conduct”, however the details were not disclosed as the matter was never adjudicated by a court. Legal Services Commissioner John McKenzie stated that they “do not seek to protect the offending lawyer”, however they must be careful “not to do anything that might trigger a legal action by an offending lawyer for over-stepping our defined regulatory role.”

Australian Federal Police Investigated after Alleged Leaks to Media about Brittany Higgins

Australia’s anti-corruption watchdog has launched an investigation into the Australian Federal Police following allegations of leaks to the media about Brittany Higgins. Higgins alleged that she was raped in Parliament House by Bruce Lehrmann during her time as a staffer. Lehrmann has denied the allegations and has commenced defamation proceedings against several news outlets. According to the article, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) confirmed it was “investigating alleged ‘unauthorised disclosures’ to the media by the AFP.” Further, the ACLEI investigation will “consider whether or not the AFP members attempted to pervert the course of justice by forwarding protected information contained in a brief of evidence.”