What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 6 March 2023 – 12 March 2023

Network Ten and News Corp Joins Lisa Wilkinson in Bruce Lehrmann Defamation Case

Network Ten and News Corp have united with journalist Lisa Wilkinson in relation to Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation trial. The parties are seeking to prove that the former Liberal staffer had raped previous colleague Brittany Higgins in Parliament House. Lehrmann had filed documents in the Federal Court against Network Ten and News Corp in relation to interviews with Ms Higgins published on February 15, 2021. Lehrmann is alleging that the publications include “defamatory meanings, including that he ‘raped Brittany Higgins.’” The criminal trial was abandoned in October last year following juror misconduct and concerns for Ms Higgin’s mental health. Should the defamation trial proceed, the defendants will have to prove on the balance of probabilities that Mr Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins in 2019.

Twelve Members of Parliament Still to Complete Sexual Harassment Training

Twelve Members of Parliament and Senators are yet to complete their sexual harassment training in light of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ review into the parliamentary workplace. The review occurred following the Brittany Higgins trial, where Ms Higgins alleged that she was sexually assaulted by former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann. In the review, Ms Jenkins found that “political staffers and parliamentarians had little or no idea how to report or address incidents of bullying, sexual harassment or assault.” The training course was implemented in late 2021 and has previously been made compulsory for members of the Labor party. The delay in participation was reportedly due to “staff shortages”, along with ministers struggling to “find time” to complete the course. Two of the twelve members have elected to not complete the training, with Pauline Hanson MP stating she was “too old to sexually harass” and senator Gerard Rennick saying he had completed an alternative training course in 2021 “with a lawyer who specialised in sexual discrimination.”

Fair Work Commission’s New Function Commenced 6 March 2023

The Fair Work Commission stated on Monday this week that the recent changes to the role of the Fair Work Commission in relation to sexual harassment have come into operation. The changes arise following the implementation of the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Act 2022. The changes commenced on 6 March 2023 and include prohibitions in relation to sexual harassment in connection with work. The amendments allow the Fair Work Commission to make a stop sexual harassment order or otherwise deal with the dispute. The prohibitions apply to workers, including employees, contractors, volunteers, future workers or people conducting a business or undertaking. Further, the Act makes a company liable for sexual harassment conducted by an employee in connection with work, making a company liable if it fails to prove that they took all reasonable steps to prevent the sexual harassment.

Member of Parliament Sally Rugg to be Terminated Following Court Decision

Sally Rugg has failed to maintain her position as Chief of Staff following a decision of the NSW Federal Court on 7 March 2023. Justice Mortimer dismissed Rugg’s application for an injunction preventing Monique Ryan MP from ending her employment. Ms Rugg is claiming that she was unfairly dismissed by the Commonwealth and Ms Ryan, with her lawyers alleging that she was “pushed” into resigning. Further, Ms Rugg is claiming that she was asked to work “more than 70 hours a week on a salary of $166,000” and that these hours were “unreasonable”. Ms Rugg is seeking compensation as well as pecuniary penalties, stating that the Commonwealth has seriously contravened parts of the Fair Work Act.

Independent Senator Lidia Thorpe Alleges she was Sexually Harassed at Parliament House

Independent senator Lidia Thorpe has alleged that she was sexually harassed and assaulted during her time as a Greens senator at Parliament house. Ms Thorpe has claimed she was “sexually assaulted four times” in her “first six months”. Ms Thorpe stated that she was sexually assaulted by Labor and Coalition parliamentarians. Although she said that the Parliament Workplace Support Service (PWSS) “were aware of her complaints”, she did not want any action to be taken. Further, Ms Thorpe cited her participation in the Jenkins’ report, stating that she has “faith in that review” and her participation in it. The allegations follow Ms Thorpe’s decision to leave the Greens party on the basis of bullying.