What Australia can learn from other Parliaments about sexual harassment and assaults

Brittany Higgins alleges that she was raped in her employer’s office by a work colleague after a night of drinking. Since mid-February 2021, other women have claimed to have been sexually assaulted in Parliament. The Attorney-General, Christian Porter, is taking some leave after revealing himself to be the person behind historical rape allegations. At the moment, Australian politics is wrapped up in itself over these scandals. Still, similar scandals have happened in other Parliaments, and the responses to these may provide guidance for Australia.

A small survey of female parliamentarians and staff in Europe in 2018 found the following

▪ 85.2 per cent of female MPs who took part in the study said that they had suffered psychological violence in the course of their term of office.
▪ 46.9 per cent had received death threats or threats of rape or beating.
▪ 58.2 per cent had been the target of online sexist attacks on social networks.
▪ 67.9 per cent had been the target of comments relating to their physical appearance or based on gender stereotypes.
▪ 24.7 per cent had suffered sexual violence.
▪ 14.8 per cent had suffered physical violence.

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The PM expects Australian workplaces to be “as safe as possible”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has set the occupational health and safety (OHS) bar unachievably high for Australian businesses.

Morrison is embroiled in a scandal about an alleged rape in a ministerial office, his knowledge of and response to it, and his government’s duty of care to political employees. Below is his response to this question from a journalist:

JOURNALIST: “What is your message to young women who might want to get into politics and see this and are just horrified by it. What’s your reassurance to them about getting involved in the Liberal party or other parties? “

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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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Accountability in all that we do

“The way we do things around here” is a rough explanation to what many people mean by culture and, especially, a workplace safety culture. A culture is built or strengthened through personal interaction, conversations, relationship and a shared responsibility. Part of this is an expectation that workers will look out for each (which is also a legislative obligation), and crucial to this is the concept of the “ethical bystander“.

But recently this concept was applied in a new way in an American Court when a woman, Lisa Ricchio, who was kept and sexually assaulted repeatedly in a hotel room, sued the hotel alleging that the hotel owners financially benefited from the crime.

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Action demanded on sexual harassment in the entertainment industry

On 12 December 2017, part of Australia’s screen and television industry held a forum in Sydney about sexual harassment in the sector and what could be done to reduce this workplace hazard. This initiative occurred a day before an open letter was published about sexual harassment in the music industry.  There is a momentum for change on sexual harassment in the workplace, but it is at risk of resulting in a fragmented approach which will generate turf wars, confusion and, ultimately, ineffectiveness.

The

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University sexual assault – an OHS perspective

The community and media responses to the Australian Human Rights Commission report into sexual assault and harassment in Australian universities continue but until the Australian Government responds, it is unclear how the risks will be reduced, particularly as many members of the current Federal Government have been openly hostile to the AHRC and its previous Commissioner, Gillian Triggs.  After having rubbished the Commissioner and the institution, how will the government respond?

Following on from the very popular SafetyAtWorkBlog article about the report yesterday, it is worth looking at the AHRC recommendations in the occupational health and safety (OHS) context.

It should be noted that OHS places the principal responsibility on the employer, in this instance, the universities and the Vice-Chancellors.  Some have already started to call on the government to play a role, with implications that it should be leading the change: Continue reading “University sexual assault – an OHS perspective”