Parliamentary culture must change

Australia is in the midst of a murky investigation into an alleged rape that occurred out-of-hours in an office of a Federal Minister in Australia’s Parliament House. The incident has raised discussions and debates about workplace culture, the reporting of crimes, the uniqueness (?) of the parliamentary workplace, the rights of women, the role of the media in reporting the allegations or in being complicit in the workplace culture…….

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has got himself into a pickle about how to respond, how to investigate and what he should have known and what he was expected to do. One of the actions that he and his government could do, and should have done, was to accept, and act on, the findings of the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) early last year. The relevance of this report is obvious:

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The quad bike safety puzzle

According to The Weekly Times ($), the Victorian Farmers Federation has changed its stance on the fitting of operator protective devices (OPDs) to quad bikes at point of sale. Instead they want farmers to fit their own OPDs. The reason given for this change is reported as being

“… due to concerns many quad bike brands would no longer be available if manufacturers were forced to fit them.”

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The failure of Leadership on sexual harassment

A picture not of Josh Bornstein. This is Male Champions of Change CEO Annika Freyer in the AFR’s online article

If prominent Australian lawyer, Josh Bornstein does not like something, it’s worth looking more closely at it. Last week on Twitter, Bornstein scoffed at the suggestion that occupational health and safety (OHS) could be a new approach to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. He tweeted:

“To all those clamouring to support the idea that sexual harassment should be treated as an OHS issue, I have a simple message: Wrong Way, Go Back”

The OHS and sexual harassment nexus appeared primarily in response to a couple of articles (paywalled) in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) based on a leaked report from the Male Champions for Change (MCOC) organisation. Although the report is not publicly released for another couple of weeks, MCOC (hopefully not pronounced My Cock), proposes consideration of applying OHS laws and principles to sexual harassment.

The full report is likely to discuss the mechanics of this further but the advocacy of OHS is less interesting that the admission that MCOC and other leadership-based approaches to reduction and prevention of workplace sexual harassment have failed.

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Tooma on Mental Health – Review

Michael Tooma is probably the most prominent occupational health and safety (OHS) lawyer in Australia. His latest book is, a little pretentiously, called “Michael Tooma on Mental Health“, but it fits with the series of OHS-related publications he has written for Wolters Kluwer. Unusually for a lawyer, there are only two chapters that specifically discuss legislative obligations, and, in many ways, these are the least interesting.


Positive Mental Health

In the Introduction, Tooma goes out of his way to stress the positive benefits of work. He is critical of the current OHS approach to workplace stress writing that we seek a “Goldilocks” application of perfection when this is really subjectively determined by each worker. Tooma challenges this in a major way through the 2012 study by Keller and others:

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OHS, organisational culture, sex abuse and the Catholic Church

The discussion of “organisational culture” has tried to remain apolitical or amoral, but it always relies of case studies to illustrate the academic and ephemeral. Largely these studies involve major disasters, but few people work in heavy industry, chemical plants, or offshore oil rigs. Better examples could be sought by looking at other industries, such as the Catholic Church. (I really hope someone is examining this relationship in a PhD)

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New gendered-violence guide is good on the What but thin on the How

Australia’s trade union movement has been at the forefront of many of the occupational health and safety (OHS) changes, especially workplace stress and bullying. Other than Industrial Manslaughter laws, its most recent campaign targeted to a workplace hazard has revolved around work-related gendered violence. Last week WorkSafe Victoria released a guide to employers on “work-related gendered violence including sexual harassment”. The advice in this guide is good but does not go far enough and is less helpful than it could have been.

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Froth and bubble replaced with sensible discussion

A recent court case over workers’ compensation gained a great deal of media attention in Australia because the case related to the employment status of a contestant on a reality television show. (Outside of workplace deaths the last media occupational health and safety (OHS) frenzy concerns a public servant being injured during sex.) Commentators left and right were both chuckling at the latest court decision and being alarmist about it setting a precedent. Finally a newspaper and online article has spoken of the case sensibly.

Nicole Prince, an OHS professional, competed in a reality program about house renovations. She and her partner were portrayed on the show as the nasty couple, a role that most reality TV shows look for and/or create. After leaving the show, Prince argued that she could be considered an employee of the broadcaster, Channel 7, and so was entitled to workers compensation for the psychological distress that resulted from her treatment by Channel 7, and especially on social media.

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