What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 5 October 2020 – 11 October 2020

Increase in Sexual Harassment Complaints Since Covid-19

According to HCA Mag, the number of sexual harassment complaints has risen since the pandemic. Victoria, the state hit hardest by COVID-19, has seen one of the biggest increases in sexual harassment complaints, with reports up six per cent in the past twelve months. Commentators have speculated that because employees are working from home, victims feel safer and more willing to speak up.

Gender Equity Vision for 2030 in ASX200 Companies

Libby Lyons, the Director at the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, is leading the Steering Committee for the 40:40 Vision initiative. The initiative aims to achieve gender parity in Australia’s ASX 200 executive leadership teams by 2030. In doing so, the initiative encourages companies to ‘publicly pledge their commitment to gender balance at top leadership levels, set targets for achieving it and report annually on their progress.’ The initiative follows what Lyons called ‘seismic’ shifts within corporate Australia. More than ever, investors and shareholders are voicing their intolerance for bad behaviour and toxic workplace cultures. Recent upheavals at AMP, TechnologyOne, QBE, Cleanaway and Rio Tinto demonstrate as much.

Senator Chandler Opposes Inclusivity and Diversity Codes in Sports

Liberal senator Claire Chandler has denounced eight major Australian sporting organisations on the recent adoption of inclusivity and diversity codes. Senator Chandler, already embroiled in an anti-discrimination over her conservative beliefs, rebuked the sporting organisations for ignoring evidence about transgender women. In a public statement, Senator Chandler said the codes ‘placed the rights of males to play in women’s sport above the rights of females to their own sporting competitions.’ ‘Inclusion in sport is important and that’s why we have men’s sport for males, women’s sport for females, junior sport for children and a range of mixed and social sport options. Removing female-only sport as a standalone category is not inclusive, it is insulting and unfair,’ a statement on Chandler’s website continued.

Federal Budget Allocates Money to Address Workplace Sexual Harassment

The Federal Government, in its 2020-21 budget, has dedicated $150 million to support those at risk of sexual violence. Additionally, the Government plans to establish a Respect@Work Council, dedicating $2.1 million to address sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. Despite this, Labor says women, whose employment prospects have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, have been ‘left out’ of the budget. Labor’s spokesperson for women Julie Collins said ‘[t]he budget contains nothing to address significant job losses in industries dominated by females.’

Study Analyses How Gender Diversity is Portrayed in the Media

New research by the University of Melbourne explores how workplace gender diversity narratives are presented in the media. Analysing a total of 12 newspapers, the study looked at how the media portrayed workplace issues between July 2014 and June 2019. The study revealed that the most common topics relevant to workplace gender diversity focused on the experiences of relatively famous and powerful women — such as politicians, actors and influencers. The study concluded that the findings are important, as effective representation of discrimination issues are required to respond to the needs of women in the workplace.

Adelaide Anglican Priest Accuses Church Of Discrimination

An Adelaide Anglican priest has accused her church of discrimination after she was denied permission to say mass and celebrate sacraments because of her sexual orientation. Sorèl Coward has been married to her wife for 28 years and transitioned from male to female in 2014. When Coward transitioned from male to female in 2014, the church classified her marriage as same-sex. Despite being ordained as a priest almost 25 years ago and, last year asked Archbishop of Adelaide Geoffrey Smith for permission to officiate again after a break to pursue study. ‘All I wanted was the ability to be able to say mass, to celebrate the sacraments of the church, to bless those in their last hours of their life, in a little church in Adelaide, and nothing more,’ Coward said. In a letter dated September 26, Archbishop Smith said ‘[i]n my view granting you [permission to officiate] at this time would be to get ahead of where the church currently is on these matters, and for that reason would not be appropriate for me to do.’ ‘If the church’s position on same-sex marriage changes or is further clarified and it becomes appropriate for me to reconsider your request, I will certainly do that,’ he concluded. Despite Coward’s claim, a spokesperson for the Fair Work Ombudsman noted that churches were covered by Australian anti-discrimination law in certain circumstances. ‘Consequently [churches] cannot discriminate against their employees for certain protected characteristics, such as gender identity and sexual orientation,’ the spokesperson said.

University of Adelaide Sexual Assault and Harassment Reports Revealed

The ABC has obtained data showing the University of Adelaide has received more than 50 reports of sexual assault and harassment since the beginning of 2018. The highest number of reported incidents occurred in 2019 and included three reports by students against staff, and another three where both parties were staff members. In view of the recent scandal with Professor Peter Rathjen, newly appointed chancellor Cathy Branson last month told staff the university was taking steps to improve. ‘The number of complaints of sexual assault and sexual harassment arising at this university is astonishingly low … I think it’s five in total over the last number of years,’ she said. Despite this figure conflicting with the ABC’s data, Branson was cognisant that the University ‘need[s] to establish a cultural change.’

ACS Faces A Vote Of No Confidence

The 50-year-old Australian Computer Society (ACS) is facing a vote of no confidence. The meeting comes after a turbulent year for the organisation, with accusations of bullying and other misconduct and poor behaviour. Last week, ACS president Ian Oppermann wrote a letter on the organisation’s internal governance challenges, including allegations of a culture of bullying and a lack of transparency across the organisation. Rockier still, ACS’s long-serving CEO Andrew Johnson recently left the organisation, replaced late on Thursday by interim CEO Rupert Grayston.

Sexual Harassment In Victorian Courts

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) has commenced a review into sexual harassment in Victoria’s court or tribunal system. Led by former VEOHRC Commissioner Dr Helen Szoke, the review aims to find ways to ‘build a culture that prevents sexual harassment, give people the confidence to speak up, and call out sexual harassment where it occurs.’ The review follows recent and high profile allegations of sexual harassment in the legal sector – most notably, against former High Court judge Dyson Heydon.

Wathaurong Declines To Comment on Bullying Allegations

The Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-op has declined to provide comment on allegations of bullying by a former staff member. The matter is currently before the courts, so the organisation considers it inappropriate to provide further comment.