What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 5 August 2019 – 11 August 2019

Loose Definition of Bullying?
In a recent editorial piece, the Sydney Morning Heraldeditorial piece, the Sydney Morning Heraldeditorial piece, the Sydney Morning Herald noted that bullying in workplaces is difficult to tackle because it is insidious and hard to perceive. It may take the form of a person who uses their status in the office to humiliate a subordinate. It might even take the form of inviting female colleagues ‘on business trips where a macho atmosphere ensues’. Part of the problem in identifying bullying behaviours is that the action itself is loosely defined. The Fair Work Commission has defined bullying as when ‘a person or group of people repeatedly act unreasonably towards them or a group of workers’. Given the vagueness of the ‘unreasonable’ requirement, it may turn upon those at the top to set a strong example of what behaviours will and won’t be tolerated at work.

Culture of Bullying in Air Traffic Controllers, Airservices
A new report has uncovered accusations of bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment against air traffic controller, Airservices Australia. The report found that Airservices Australia’s employees were subject to serious health and safety concerns. Anthony North, the former Federal Court judge who conducted the report, found that ‘bullying was a normal part of the workplace culture‘bullying was a normal part of the workplace culture‘bullying was a normal part of the workplace culture’. ‘Attempts to address the problem were laughed at and dismissed’, he noted. The report went as far as concluding that ‘Airservices Australia’s culture could endanger the safety of air navigation and as a result endanger the lives of air travellers’. The report found that bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment were ‘part of the way things [were] done’ at Airservices, and ‘dismissed the idea that the reported instances were isolated incidents’. In response to the damning exposé, the government-owned organisation announced an independent review of workplace culture led by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick. While the internal review has been viewed as a concession of cultural problems, Airservices Australia was quick to reject suggestions that its workplace has had negative effects on passenger’s safety. ‘Airservices’ safety performance is demonstrably among the best in the world and always improving,’ the organisation said. ‘There is no factual basis for these false and alarmist claims. When our safety performance is compared against our peers, we compare exceptionally well’, Airservices added.

Public Servant Loses Freedom of Speech Related to Work as her 7 Year Legal Battle Ends
The High Court of Australia (in the case of Comcare v Banerji [2019] HCA 23case of Comcare v Banerji [2019] HCA 23case of Comcare v Banerji [2019] HCA 23) has handed down a ruling on the Michaela Banerji’s ‘free speech’ case. Ms Banerji, lost her job (in the Department of Immigration) after anonymously criticising her employer on Twitter (there were about 9000 tweets, some of which were critical to the Department of Immigration, its policies, and some of its employees). In finding against Ms Banerji, the High Court held that the Department of Immigrations’ decision to terminate the public servant’s contract was justified. Ms Banerji worked for the Australian Public Service (“APS”) which had a Code of Conduct (“Code”) which included the requirement that employees behave in way that upholds APS Values and integrity and the good reputation of APS and employees are to be apolitical, performing functions in impartial and a professional manner. In rejecting the appeal, the High Court found that section 24 of the Commonwealth Constitution could not be invoked to protect public servants.

The decision ended a seven-year fight over whether public servants have the right to express their opinions on government policy.

While the decision is set to have implications for the constitutionally implied freedom of political communication and free speech generally, the decision is unlikely to affect Israel Folau’s upcoming Federal Court battle.

Kieran Pender, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University, said that while Ms Banerji’s case answered constitutional questions, it did ‘not have a direct bearing on the resolution of the Folau case’ because Folau is arguing he was discriminated against under the Fair Work Act.

Former Liberal Party Staffers Claim Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Against Colleagues
Two former Liberal Party staffers, Dhanya Mani and Chelsea Potter, have made sexual harassment and assault claims against Liberal party staff members. The party has since been criticised for the way it handled these claims, with some colleagues advising the women not to take the matter to the policesome colleagues advising the women not to take the matter to the policesome colleagues advising the women not to take the matter to the police. Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos, in calling for better internal review processes, said that ‘we can’t have a situation where people feel the only option is to go public in this way’.