Barrister and Women Lawyers Association of NSW (WLANSW) president Larissa Andelman has criticised anti-discrimination law in Australia. In calling for legislative reform, Ms Andelman said that ‘this model of requiring victims of sexual harassment to report just hasn’t worked’. Instead, Ms Andelman has proposed the enactment of bystander provisions. ‘Bystander provisions are important, because they take away the responsibility from the victim’ and instead shift it to ‘all of us as workplace participants’. A bystander, Ms Andelman explained, is ‘someone who witnesses themselves, or they hear about an incident that they believe to be sexual harassment’. ‘Usually it refers to someone who works together with as an employee, or as a client, or perhaps in the legal profession a solicitor and a barrister relationship’, she explained. Given the low rates of sexual harassment reporting, Ms Andelman said that bystander provisions are important to ensure that others understand their role in the reporting process. In calling for more than just policy, Ms Andelman said that ‘education and behavioural training where people interact and engage about their own ethics and understandings and beliefs’, will go hand in hand to complement comprehensive reforms to anti-discrimination legislation.
Ms Andelman added that the need for reform is compounded within the legal profession, where there is a very strong culture of non-reporting. This is because lawyers are ‘extremely hierarchical [and] have very clear ideas about where to fit in and where to stand in the pecking order’. ‘All those factors play into this idea that we don’t want to be seen as someone who is not part of the team, someone who doesn’t fit in, someone who’s going to cause trouble. And so, we have this very strong culture of non-reporting, where we go along with that, because that’s what we see senior leaders in our profession doing’, she concluded.
As the debate over the Morrison government’s plan to secure religious freedoms gains momentum, a poll conducted by Essential has revealed that the proposal only receives lukewarm public support. The poll found that only 38 per cent of Australians agree that stronger employment protections are needed for those of faith. On the other hand, 58 per cent of respondents believed that employers should not have the right to decide what their employees say outside work. While Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he does not want the legislation to be divisive, the coalition faces an uphill battle that is proving difficult to manage. While hard-line conservatives want the government to go further, the current proposal is already attracting stinging criticism from LGBTIQ+ groups who fear that religious protections will come at the cost of minority groups.
A report released by The West Australian last week revealed that university staff across WA have resigned following accusations of sexual harassment against students and colleagues. In the exclusive report, The West Australian revealed that 88 cases of sexual misconduct at the University of Western Australia (UWA), Curtin University, Edith Cowan University and Murdoch University had been report4ed since the start of last year. The report detailed how one Curtin staff member, who was accused of serial perversion, had his employment contract formally terminated after allegations arose from three students and one staff member. The report also revealed that a female staff member at UWA resigned after allegations arose that she had sent a male colleague sexually explicit emails. All four universities have since reiterated their zero tolerance commitment to sexual assault and harassment.