What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 4 – 11 April 2021

PM Convenes First Women’s Cabinet Meeting

Prime Minister Scott Morrison brought together senior colleagues this week at the first meeting of the new cabinet women’s task force. Minister for Women Marise Payne, who co-chaired the inaugural meeting in Canberra, said the group’s priority would be responding to the Respect at Work report. The report was completed more than a year ago by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins as Australia lagged behind other countries in preventing workplace harassment. Australia’s new assistant minister for women, Amanda Stoker, has also fired back at Australian of the Year Grace Tame and activist Magda Szubanski over their criticism of her appointment. This critique stems from Ms Stoker’s previous support of a controversial commentator who expressed public sympathy for Ms Tame’s abuser. Additionally, Ms Tame accused the Senator of work “aimed at falsifying all counts of sexual abuse on (university) campuses across the nation.” Ms Stoker claims this accusation is “utter nonsense.”

Morrison Government’s Reply to Respect@Work Takes Positive Steps but is Light on Detail

Following intense public pressure, the Morrison government has finally responded to the report with a plan entitled, “A Roadmap for Respect: Preventing and Addressing Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces.” The roadmap recognises the importance of a preventative approach to stop sexual harassment before it occurs. It also expresses agreement (either in full, in part or in principle) or “notes” the recommendations in the Respect@Work report. This, however, falls significantly short of a commitment to fully implement all 55 recommendations put forth by Jenkins. For the roadmap to respond effectively to her damning findings, it must deliver radical change to ensure workplace equality in reality. That said, there is no doubt the groundswell of public condemnation of sexual harassment has meaningfully shaped the government’s response.
Positive measures announced include:
• extending the time limit for making a sexual harassment complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission from six months to 24 months
• clarifying that sexual harassment is a form of serious misconduct that can warrant immediate dismissal
• closing the loophole that exempts parliamentarians and judges from being held accountable for sexual harassment complaints under the Sex Discrimination Act.
All these changes are welcome and long overdue. Other aspects of the roadmap will require scrutiny, as further details emerge.

‘Now is the time’: Qld Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk Demands PM Scott Morrison Calls a Women’s Summit

The Queensland premier wrote to the Prime Minister on Wednesday demanding he call a national women’s summit in the wake of the horrific sexual assault scandals exposed this year. Ms Palaszczuk said “now is the time” following the groundswell of support in the March 4 Justice, which was inspired by allegations from former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins of rape in parliament as well as historic sexual assault claims against former Attorney-General Christian Porter. Ms Palaszczuk’s colleagues have been vocal in revealing personal stories in the last few months of alleged assault in and out of workplaces. In a special motion initiated by the premier in Queensland parliament last month, an impassioned series of speeches from ministers and MPs from either side of politics detailed horrific stories of assault. “What we have seen over the last few months is a huge wave of support for women to have their voices heard and I think the time is now right to have a national women’s summit,” she told reporters. “I honestly believe that if we are going to achieve equality in this country, then now is the time. Now is the time for us to have a national women’s summit.”

Politicians and Judges to be included in Sex Discrimination Act, Federal Government Announces

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said a series of legislative changes would be introduced into Parliament this year, aimed at strengthening protections against sexual harassment in the workplace. The Coalition has been under pressure to address women’s safety after recent rape and sexual harassment allegations rocked federal politics. The federal government will amend the Sex Discrimination Act to include politicians and judges, who have previously been exempt from the laws. The government will also adopt all 55 recommendations contained in the Respect at Work report, either in full or in part. This report was handed to the government in January last year by Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the changes were about changing the culture of Australian workplaces to keep all people safe. Mr Morrison also announced that money to support the recommendations would be included in next month’s federal budget.

Women Formerly Employed by WA Labor Mull Legal Challenge After Workplace Bullying Claims

A group of former Labor staffers who were unceremoniously dumped from their roles or quit due to allegedly toxic workplaces and bullying are considering legal action against the Department of Premier and Cabinet and the party itself. The group includes former electorate officers from Kalamunda MP Matthew Hughes’ office and a staffer for Deputy Premier Roger Cook, Sanja Spasojevic, as well as at least two other women who have not yet gone public with their stories. Some of the women will likely seek compensation for the way they were treated, but all want to see cultural change in political parties and Department of Premier and Cabinet human resources processes they say encourages a ‘put up and shut up’ culture. The women have enlisted the help of Victorian barrister Gerald Grabau, who said the approach would be similar to a class-action lawsuit and focus on the legality of the dismissals and whether any discrimination took place because the former employees were all women.

‘Less Shocked, More Outraged’: New Figures Show Harassment in Queensland Public Service

As Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today stood to call for a National Women’s Summit, new figures have shown just how much harassment is occurring in the state’s public service. In findings obtained by Nine News from the state’s Public Service Commission, Queensland’s house of highest honours has had more than 405 harassment complaints in a 12-month period. The figures show that Between July 2019 and June 2020, 140 complaints about inappropriate sexual conduct were reported within the Queensland public service. Of those complaints, 21 employees were suspended with pay, only 1 was suspended without pay and 6 employees were terminated. In that same period, 265 bullying and harassment complaints were reported – most of those were internal, but no one was sacked or suspended without pay.

Qld Premier Silent on Misconduct Claims

The Queensland premier says she can’t detail complaints of sexual misconduct and bullying involving ministerial offices that are now under investigation. Annastacia Palaszczuk said the Department of Premier and Cabinet is investigating two matters but has declined to detail the nature of the complaints. The cases have surfaced amid intense media scrutiny of how state and federal governments are dealing with sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the wake of the Brittany Higgins rape allegations. Nine News and Seven have obtained new figures showing Queensland public servants are facing sexual misconduct and bullying on a daily basis but disciplinary action is rare.

Parliament House Sex Act Investigation: Six Men to be Named

A Canberra man is set to lodge formal complaints against six men he claims engaged in sex acts in Parliament House, according to reports. It follows the sacking of a Liberal staffer last month after he filmed himself performing a lewd act on the desk of a female MP, in shocking revelations aired by Channel 10. The footage was reportedly shared with a group of male Coalition staffers who filmed themselves committing crude acts inside Parliament House. The complainant has never worked in politics but admits to having had sex in Parliament House after meeting a man on gay dating app Grindr, the ABC reports. The man claims he has evidence to support his allegations — including messages, photos and videos — and has agreed to supply a written statement after talking with officials from the Department of Finance and Finance Minister Simon Birmingham’s office. Liberal backbencher Warren Entsch questioned the man’s motives, telling the ABC he believed the move amounted to “revenge porn”. But the man told the network he only wanted to call out inappropriate behaviour in Parliament House and had no plans to provide images and videos to the inquiry at this stage.

Neighbours Actor Shareena Clanton Claims Workplace Culture is ‘Toxic’

Shareena Clanton describes her experience working for the Network Ten as “lonely, triggering and traumatising.” She wrote on Instagram that Network 10 is “a culturally unsafe space” where she would never work again. Within the social media post, Ms Clanton also listed multiple allegations of racist and inappropriate behaviour by senior Neighbours staff and fellow cast members. Such allegations included a white actress openly calling another actress of colour a “lil’ monkey”. Ms Clanton stated that she was told to “go somewhere else” when she confronted the actor directly about this behaviour.

Karen Pack Says she was Sacked by her Employer Morling College for Being Gay

Karen Pack told 7.30 she was sacked – legally, under current laws — because she is openly gay and worked at Morling College, a Baptist education institution in Sydney. She believes it was prompted by an email from the public attacking her sexuality and urging the Baptist denomination to “distance itself from her demonic actions” because they felt “disgusted”. It’s a claim the College disputes. In a statement to 7.30, the principal of Morling College, Ross Clifford, said it was Ms Pack who decided to leave the school because she could “no longer adhere to a key Morling value” about the “nature of marriage”, and that “after discussion and prayer” she left their employment. The College initially told students in a letter obtained by 7.30 that “the decision for Karen to end her lecturing role was made by the Principal, with the knowledge and support of the Morling College Board and College Leadership Team. It was based on the position on same-sex marriage held by the College stated in our community code.” However, the College described her in that same letter to students as an “excellent and committed educator”.