What’s Been Happening in Australia in Relation to Sexual Harassment, Discrimination and Bullying from 7 September 2020 – 13 September 2020

Australia’s First Claim For ‘Reproductive Leave’ Gets ACTU Backing

Victoria’s Health and Community Services Union (VHCSU) is pushing for employers to grant leave and flexibility around reproductive health issues. Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president, Michele O’Neil, has stood in support of the claim that employees undergoing treatments – such as assisted reproduction, termination and prostate cancer – should not be forced to take sick leave or personal leave. ‘The drain that these procedures causes in other forms of leave disproportionately affects women and trans people and this new entitlement would create a more equal and accommodating workplace – something we should always be working towards,’ Ms O’Neil said. As well as a new type of leave, the VHCSH argues that affected employees should have the right to work from home, work flexible hours or make reasonable changes to the work environment to help alleviate symptoms.

AFL’s Toxic Silence Comes As No Surprise

The Australian Football League (AFL) has been accused of staying silent when it comes to sexual assault allegations against AFL footballers. Eight weeks ago, Collingwood player Jordan De Goey was charged with sexual assault. Despite this, De Goey is rumoured to be playing again as soon as next Monday. Under the AFL’s ‘respect and responsibility’ code, the sporting organisation has the power to stand down De Goey on the basis of a serious criminal charge. Despite this power, AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan has declined to make any comment on De Goey’s run-in with the law. Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has criticised the handling of the situation and said she was ‘not comfortable with sportspeople playing while charged with serious criminal offences.’

Australian Man Paid $170,000 By Wife’s Company for Racial Discrimination

A company has been ordered to pay an Australian man $170,000 in compensation for racial discrimination. Fiona Bendall and her husband Duncan founded a company called the Female Social Network in 2016. However, when their marriage began to break down, Mr Bendall was sacked in August for ‘gross misconduct.’ Mr Bendall then applied to the London Employment Tribunal, arguing he had been unfairly dismissed and discriminated against based on his race and sex. These allegations come after his wife, co-founder of the company, referred to Australians as an ‘inferior race.’ During an argument, she sent Mr Bendall an email which read, ‘I hate Australian mentality and you have it droves.’ Mr Bendall said that his wife ‘kept treating Australia as an inferior race, despite living there for 15 years.’ Finding in favour of Mr Bendall on grounds of unfair dismissal and race harassment, the London Employment Tribunal ordered the Female Social Network to pay Mr Bendall $170,000 in compensation.

Gender Commissioner Will Enforce Equal Opportunity Laws Across Public Service

Victoria is set to appoint its first Gender Equality Commissioner. South Australian Equal Opportunity Commissioner Dr Niki Vincent will assume the new role, which was created to help enforce equal opportunity laws across the state’s nearly 400,000-person public sector workforce.

Canberra Radio Newsreader Ordered To Pay Transgender Activist Compensation for Discrimination

The ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal has found that Canberra radio newsreader Beth Rep breached discrimination laws when she ‘liked’ offensive comments on her Facebook page. In a story about International Women’s Day, Ms Rep made comments about Bridget Clinch, a transgender Army captain who medically transitioned to life as a female in 2010. After Ms Clinch complained to the ACT Human Rights Commission about the comments, Ms Rep made a post on her Facebook page apologising. However, the post attracted over 300 comments, many of which were offensive, and Ms Rep had ‘liked.’ On this basis, Ms Clinch initiated proceedings for damages under the Discrimination Act, alleging unlawful vilification and victimisation based on gender identity. In finding against Ms Rep, the Tribunal ordered her to pay Ms Clinch $10,000 in compensation.

AHRC Publishes Free Online Training Module for NSW

The Australian Human Rights Commission has published a free online training module for employers and employees in New South Wales. The ‘Upholding the rights of older workers’ training program is designed to increase understanding of the benefits of employing older people, highlights ways to foster engagement with older employees and examines issues of age discrimination.

MP Demands Immediate Start to Stalled SA Parliament Sexual Harassment Inquiry

Greens MLC Tammy Franks has demanded that an inquiry into sexual harassment in South Australia’s parliament take place immediately. Ms Franks’ demand comes after allegations that former Liberal MP Sam Duluk engaged in sexual misconduct at a parliament Christmas party last December. Following this, ‘the Equal Opportunity Commissioner … offered a cultural review,’ Ms Franks said. ‘It [would have been] a four-month process’ however, Ms Frank notes that ‘it hasn’t even started yet, and we need action.’ Ms Franks plans to write to South Australia’s two new presiding officers and request that they commence the cultural review ‘as a matter of urgency.’ Despite the Sam Duluk incident, Ms Franks said the inquiry was needed to deal with ‘issues raised over many years.’ ‘We need cultural change and we need to admit that we have a problem, rather than continuing to sweep it under the carpet,’ she concluded.

NDAs Used By Two Major Australian Banks to Hush Sexual Harassment Complainants

This week, two major Australian banks, Westpac and National Australia Bank (NAB), confirmed they had used non-disclose agreements (NDAs) to hush sexual harassment complainants. To the House of Representatives, NAB chief executive Ross McEwan disclosed that the company has entered nine NDAs employees in the past three years, all relating to sexual misconduct. Westpac chief executive Peter King told the same hearing that the bank is ‘removing [NDAs] but even when they are in place … we will look at them case-by-case, but they are unlikely to be something that we will require.’
During the hearing, financial services company, IOOF, also admitted that it received sexual harassment complaints in Queensland and South Australia. A representative for IOOF stated that the incidents were investigated internally by human resources and formal warnings given but did not result in remedies or settlement amounts.

Dealing With Ageism In The Workplace

Lisa Annese, the CEO of Diversity Council Australia, said that those re-entering the workforce at an older age stage should be mindful of barriers to employment. To overcome them, Annese said that job candidates should recognise and pre-empt the concerns an employer might have. A good way to do this, she said, is by highlighting in your CV previous work experience that demonstrates your ability to be adaptable and learn new skills. Ms Annese also said that it’s important people know they don’t need to reveal their age when applying for a job, as that is unlawful.

AMP Apologises to Julia Szlakowski

AMP has publicly apologised to Julia Szlakowski, the former staff member who accused the financial services company of dismissing her sexual harassment complaint against former AMP Capital boss Boe Pahari. AMP Chief Executive Francesco De Ferrari made the public apology during a federal parliamentary inquiry last week. ‘We, you know, really deeply regretted the incident. The board and Mr Pahari apologised,’ Mr De Ferrari said. However, despite Mr De Ferrari’s apology, he insisted that there is no systemic cultural problem within AMP. While Mr De Ferrari conceded that the issues exposed this year were ‘very distressing’ and ‘clearly not acceptable,’ he said they did not reflect a wider cultural problem within the company. ‘I don’t believe that AMP is significantly different from a lot of the issues that are present in a lot of large corporates,’ he told parliament. The same day, Mr De Ferrari outlined changes AMP had made following the Boe Pahari scandal, including prioritising whistleblower processes and the creation of a board working group by new chair Debra Hazelton. And more recently, AMP announced that it had appointed consultancy firm Symmetra to review the company’s culture and implement recommendations. ‘The review will objectively assess conduct at AMP, and make recommendations covering policies, leadership, governance and behaviours. Symmetra will then work with AMP to implement and embed the recommended changes,’ AMP said.

Australian Business Leaders are Calling for a Major Shakeup to Workplace Sexual Harassment Policies

Male Champions of Change (MCC), a group of over 270 CEOs, directors and business leaders, have signed a new guidance report on sexual harassment in the workplace. The Disrupting the System report, for the past two years, has developed alongside the Australian Human Rights Council’s National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces. As one of its five key recommendations, the report said that Boards, CEOs and Executive teams should be held accountable for issues of sexual harassment in a similar way to their occupational health and safety obligations. David Thodey, former Telstra chief executive and a MCC group member, said that he does ‘consider sexual harassment a health and safety issue as well as a behavioural issue.’ In the report, MCC also recommended that companies cease using non-disclosure agreements, which the group said prevents effective reporting.

Qld Premier Accuses PM of ‘bullying’

Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison of bullying. The accusations come after Scott Morrison personally rang the Premier to request she allow Canberra-resident Sarah Caisip to enter the state on compassionate grounds. Ms Caisip was forced to remain in Canberra while the rest of her family attended her father’s funeral. Despite mass criticism, Ms Palaszczuk said that ‘I will not be bullied nor will I be intimated by the Prime Minister of this country … to who I made very clear the fact that it was not my decision, that I would pass the information on to the Chief Health Officer and it is the Chief Health Officer’s decision to make.’

How The ACMA Dealt With 180 Complaints After Comments About Religion

An Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) investigation has found that Sydney radio station KIIS 1065 has breached rules relating to decency standards. The finding concerned comments made by well-known radio personality, Kyle Sandilands, about the Virgin Mary and Christian beliefs. The episode of the Kyle & Jackie O show, in which Sandilands made the indecent comments, received 180 complaints. Many alleged the segment was offensive, incited hatred and ridiculed Christians. Following the broadcast, the station aired a lengthy apology from Sandilands. Christian and Muslim leaders across Australia have come out to accept Mr Sandiland’s apology.

CA Reaches Out To Victims Of Racism Through New Series

Cricket Australia (CA) is hosting a series of panels, called ‘Cricket Connecting Country’, which aim to combat issues of racism in the sport. CA diversity and inclusion manager Adam Cassidy said that the series is ‘an opportunity to get a bit vulnerable and get a little bit accountable to the past, and also things that are happening right now in community clubs and at the top level right across the game of cricket.’