Wednesday, May 5

Sex discrimination commissioner says Australia is at “tipping point” in sexual harassment and assault | Australian politics


Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins says she believes Australia is now “at a tipping point” in the public conversation about sexual harassment and assault, emphasizing the need for “victim-centered approaches and responses.” “.

Jenkins has been appointed by the Morrison government to lead a workplace culture review in parliament, a review sparked by a rape charge made by former government employee Brittany Higgins against a co-worker.

The sex discrimination commissioner told ABC on Sunday that the terrain was changing. “In my time working in this area and particularly searching workplaces over the 30 years, I have never seen a moment like this,” Jenkins said.

He said that cultural change was happening “across the board.”

“I think our community is changing, so we are at a turning point, that’s my point.”

In response to the sustained furor unleashed by Higgins’ impeachment, Jenkins has been asked to consider legislative, cultural, structural or other barriers to reporting incidents in parliamentary workplaces, as well as examine the current response and mechanisms. complaint in parliamentary workplaces.

In addition, it will consider the operation of the Members of Parliament Personnel Act – the legislation under which political personnel are employed – and will “assess the extent to which current legislation, policies, processes and practices promote or impede places of employment. safe and respectful work ”.

Higgins initially filed a police report after the alleged assault in March 2019, but dropped out of action a month later as the government prepared to go to the election. She says she felt that continuing the complaint would end her career on the political staff.

In a television interview in mid-February, Higgins said that the handling of her complaint by her then-employer Linda Reynolds and senior staff, including some in Scott Morrison’s office, made her feel like she had created a political problem for the government. .

“There is a strange culture of silence at parties and just not … the idea of ​​talking about these kinds of issues, especially around [an election] campaign, it’s like disappointing the team, you’re not a team player, ”Higgins told Ten.

Jenkins noted that the possible endpoint of his investigation, which will be publicly reported in November, was a new “more independent” grievance mechanism for parliamentary staff to handle human resource issues.

The sex discrimination commissioner said she was not in a position to say definitively what the outcome of her investigation would be, but based on comparative work she had seen internationally, greater independence seemed like a logical direction to help shift power dynamics in the parliamentary workplace. .

Jenkins said it would be important to examine the employment instruments governing parliamentary staff because the conditions are not in line with human resource standards that exist in corporations.

“We often hear MPs say [the workplace is] unique and everyone thinks they are unique, but I think there are some unique things, ”Jenkins said.

“One of them is that level of labor agreements because it is very unusual who has the power to hire and fire; all of that is slightly different from the average community, so I think that is relevant.”

Jenkins was asked Sunday if there should be a mandatory report of sexual assault allegations to police. Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw has urged MPs to promptly inform the authorities of any allegations, “taking into account the rights and privacy of the victim, and regardless of the jurisdiction in which they are has produced the alleged conduct “.

In a recent letter to MPs, Kershaw said that any delay in reporting criminal conduct could “result in the loss of key evidence, continuation of the crime and / or recidivism by the alleged perpetrator” and also had “the potential real of compromising rights “. of the victims and other parts of the alleged crimes ”.

Jenkins said that approaches should focus on the victims. “It should be the individual’s decision,” he said.

But he said his review would examine the problems. Jenkins said the complaint “should not be taken out of the hands of the victim, but again, I think our investigation will particularly focus on that question because I think it is a really wicked problem for those ministers as to what they should do.” . ”.

He said his review would take submissions from stakeholders, which could be kept confidential. He said the harassment complaints raised during the process would not be examined “to find a fair outcome,” but to consider what systemic changes would be necessary to improve the work environment.

In Australia, the crisis support service Life line en 13 11 14. If you or someone you know is affected by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT at 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. International helplines can be found through www.befrienders.org


www.theguardian.com

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