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

Western Australian Summit Held Next Month After Resources Sector Sexual Misconduct

A new summit will be held next month in Perth to address the workplace culture within the Western Australian resources sector. The summit will take place following a recent #MeToo movement across the industry. According to the article, former sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins will be the keynote speaker at the event, which is reported to be attended by “representatives from the nation’s biggest mining companies.” The summit is part of the Cook government’s response to the Enough is Enough report handed down in June last year. The report followed a parliamentary inquiry into sexual misconduct occurring in the FIFO industry. The new results of a landmark study conducted by the Mental Awareness, Respect and Safety (MARS) Program are expected to be delivered at the summit. The event is being held in collaboration with key mining industry stakeholders and the Department of Mines, Industry, Regulation and Safety. Further, according to the article, the summit will not only address issues arising due to sexual misconduct, but will also address “other forms of harassment, bullying and psychosocial hazards by aiming to educate and empower leaders to take meaningful action.” The summit will involve expert panel discussions as well case studies from mining companies in Western Australia. Western Australian Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnston stated that the summit “is one of the important steps we are taking to help tackle workplace harassment and discrimination in the mining sector.”

Linda Reynolds Threatens to Sue Brittany Higgins for Defamation

Senator Linda Reynolds has threatened defamation action against Brittany Higgins reportedly in relation to an Instagram post. According to the article, Ms Higgins stated this week that she “just received a concerns notice from Linda Reynolds threatening defamation over an Instagram story” and that she was in the process of considering her legal options. A statement from Ms Reynolds’ office read that “yesterday my lawyers sent a concerns notice to Ms Brittany Higgins” and that Ms Higgins has chosen to make the private notice public. Further, the statement by Ms Reynolds read “ever since Ms Higgins first made her allegations of rape public, I have been the target of unwarranted criticism and abuse” and that she will “not tolerate being defamed by her or anybody.” On Monday this week, Ms Higgins published an Instagram story which reportedly depicted two news articles in relation to Senator Reynolds’ referral of Ms Higgin’s compensation pay-out to the new National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). Ms Higgins reportedly stated that “it is time to stop” and that the posts were from “a current Australian senator who continues to harass me through the media and in the parliament.” Further, Ms Higgins claimed in the post that the notice involved “my former boss who has publicly apologised for mishandling my rape allegation.” Despite the notice, it is not clear whether this Instagram post is to be the centre of the defamation proceedings.

Victorian Paramedics Offered Financial Compensation and Apologies for Sexual Harassment, Bullying and Discrimination

Victorian paramedics will now be able to pursue financial compensation and an apology for being sexually harassed, bullied or discriminated against according to an incoming scheme. According to the article, there will be a new “independent, restorative scheme” that will open next year and operate for a minimum of 18 months following a review of the workplace at Ambulance Victoria. The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission found that more than half of the 2,163 respondents had experienced bullying and 47 per cent had been discriminated against. Further, the report found that there were twelve rapes and several instances of attempted suicide or suicidal ideation as a result of their experiences. Both the 2021 and 2022 reports suggest more than 60 recommendations in relation to discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying and victimisation. Ambulance Services Minister Gabrielle Williams stated that the “kind of behaviours we heard about through (the commission’s) investigation are completely unacceptable” and that “there is no place in Ambulance Victoria for those who engage in or seek to protect harmful or unlawful conduct.” The Victorian government will spend $8 million working with Ambulance Victoria to facilitate the commission’s recommendations, with advice on the scheme to be received at the end of 2023.

One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson Attempts to Restrict Racial Discrimination Laws in Racism Case

One National leader Pauline Hanson has hired lawyer Sue Chrysanthou SC and law expert Bret Walker SC in an attempt to restrict Australian’s racial discrimination laws. Senator Faruqi has commenced legal action against Senator Hanson for “unlawful offensive behaviour” under the Racial Discrimination Act in relation to a tweet that stated Ms Faruqi should “piss off back to Pakistan.” Ms Hanson’s tweet was made in response to comments made by Ms Faruqi after Queen Elizabeth II’s death in September. According to the article, documents filed by Ms Hanson’s lawyers argued that the tweet made was “reasonable” and “in good faith as she believed it was true.” Further, the documents questioned the validity of sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act, which “makes it unlawful to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate someone because of their race or ethnicity.” Ms Hanson’s legal argument is that the Act “infringes the implied freedom of political communication in the Constitution.” In response, Senator Faruqi stated that Senator Hanson’s defence was “deeply offensive” and that Ms Hanson is “attempting to remove racial discrimination protections to allow people to spew forth racism and hate speech under the guise of free speech.” Senator Faruqi’s lawyer stated that “most of us understand that a decent society necessitates some outer boundaries on free speech.”

MP Claims South Australia’s Parliament Still Has ‘Toxic’ Culture of Bullying and Harassment

Connie Bonaros MP has stated this week that the South Australian parliament has a “toxic” culture of bullying and harassment, despite recent changes to the workplace. Bonaros stated that she has “people reaching out’ to her for help and that she tries her best by pointing them “in the right direction to get them the help that they need.” A review by the Equal Opportunity Commissioner in 2021 found that sexual harassment was prevalent in the South Australian parliament, including allegations of “sexually suggestive comments, indecent exposure and physical assault.” According to the article, the review described that over a quarter of respondents “experienced sexual harassment in the parliamentary workplace.” The report recommended 16 changes, several of which were designed to overhaul the workplace standards and procedures within the South Australian parliament. A tabled progress report stated that that there were “significant advances” in addressing the “cultural reform issues” and in facilitating a “more inclusive and trusting culture… free from harassment, bullying and discrimination.” South Australia’s current Equal Opportunity Commissioner Jodeen Carney stated that the progress report “lacked detail about ‘meaningful’ changes.” Ms Carney stated that the document was a “bureaucratic boondoggle” and was “something from a Utopia episode.” Further, Ms Carney stated that the “progress is frankly impossible to see… the recommendations are barely referred to.” Commissioner for Public Service Employment Erma Ranieri stated that the parliament had done “a lot of work” and was “on the right track.”

Western Australian Nurse Engaged in Professional Misconduct

A Western Australian registered nurse has been found to have engaged in professional misconduct this week after sending two “junior female colleagues lewd messages,” including asking for sexual favours to secure work. Brendan Rees was found by the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) to have engaged in professional misconduct for sending “unwanted and inappropriate sexualised and/or intimidating and exploitative communications” between December 2019 and March 2020. Rees was ordered by the SAT to engage in “anti-bullying and sexual harassment training” as well as mentoring by a senior registered nurse to educate him in “ethical practice and appropriate inter-personal relationships with colleagues.” According to the article, a junior nurse had felt “scared and intimidated” by Rees. The SAT was told that one junior nurse had been sent four messages, writing “Your (sic) welcome. She asked me if she should hire you, I said ‘yes’ and explained your early health conditions. You owe me a blow job.” Rees wrote in a second message “You are a good nurse, I told R that. You owe me a BJ.” A third message stated, “you won’t be single forever you know that… R asked and I said ‘hire you’ and she did, so one BJ when you are ready.” Further, Rees sent a message to one of the nurses to say to her daughter that he was the “50 shades of great guy. I tie you up and smash you. Daughters love that.”

Linda Reynolds Intention to Refer Brittany Higgins Compensation to National Anti-Corruption Commission

Senator Linda Reynolds has confirmed that she will ask the National Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the events surrounding the compensation pay-out received by Brittany Higgins from the Commonwealth. Linda Reynolds, who was previously Ms Higgins’ superior at the time she was allegedly raped, stated that she would refer the case to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) “due to concerns with the ‘unusually swift’ speed of the settlement and the fact that she was barred from defending herself during the process.” Ms Higgins alleged that she had been raped by Bruce Lehrmann in Parliament House, however the trial was abandoned following juror misconduct. A retrial was not pursued following concerns for Ms Higgins’ mental health. Bruce Lehrmann has denied the allegations against him. Ms Higgins received the pay-out after reaching agreement with the Commonwealth in December last year after she had commenced legal proceedings against her previous employers in the former Morrison government. According to the article, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has stated that the Morrison government “followed proper process in settling the claim with Ms Higgins.” The new NACC has received several cases since its commencement on Saturday morning, including 44 referrals within 48 hours. Commissioner Paul Brereton stated in an opening address that the NACC would “assess every matter” that is referred to the Commission. Further, Commission Brereton stated that he would “not hesitate to use the power to make public statements… to avoid damage to reputations” should the NACC be weaponised by politicians.