Public Accounts and Estimates Committee: investigation into allegations against Auditor-General

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — Today I would like to make a contribution on the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) Report of the Investigation into Allegations Made Against the Auditor-General.

Allegations of sexual harassment and of any form of harassment should always be taken seriously. No-one should be made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe in their workplace. It is very pleasing to see that this matter has been taken so very seriously by the Parliament and by those on the committee.

I imagine it was a very difficult episode in PAEC’s esteemed history. Just today we are all wearing orange, and this issue of gender inequity and the unsafeness of people in their workplace is a very important issue and a very important factor in the stamping out of violence against women. Indeed we woke up this morning to see a headline in the Herald Sun about kids being ‘Raised to rage’. The newspaper report makes the comment that new data:

 … exposes a tenancy amongst youngsters to blame female victims and excuse male perpetrators. Primary school-aged children think violence against women can be acceptable in some circumstances.

I am therefore very pleased that the PAEC committee took this issue head on, and I also note that the committee did so with a great degree of deliberateness and sensitivity. On page 62 of the report we read:

Not only is the allegation very serious, the conclusions which I reach may have very serious consequences for both Mr Doyle and the complainant. The conclusions I express about the bullying allegations are formed in the light of these considerations.

We should always commend women who are brave enough to make the complaint and say, ‘Enough is enough’. It takes a lot of courage and a lot of character to be willing to step up, speak out and place yourself under such scrutiny, especially in such a public forum. To the complainant, I thank her for doing so. Sadly, many women fear the possible consequences of speaking out and instead remain silent. We read today how easily girls excuse the violent behaviour or statements of young men.

We know that so very many women experience sexual harassment in their workplace. The Australian Human Rights Commission’s report entitled Working Without Fear — Results of the 2012 Sexual Harassment National Telephone Survey found that just over one in five people over the age of 15 had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the previous five years. The report also found that a quarter of women had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace during that period. One of the most disturbing findings of that report is that progress in addressing workplace sexual harassment has stalled in Australia. There has also been little improvement in raising awareness and rates of reporting. The Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, said that this was despite:

… stronger legislative protections against sexual harassment and the steps taken by many Australian workplaces to prevent and address sexual harassment.

Right now there are women who are living in fear, their lives are being ruined, and yet they do not feel safe to speak up and report unacceptable behaviour. Women and men must be able to work together without fear. After all, being safe at work is a basic human right, one that the complainant in this case was denied. In her grievance she said:

[I]t has now become impossible for me to continue working in this environment where I am being bullied, intim[id]ated and harassed …

She added:

My health is seriously compromised and I believe that I am being set up to fail by the —

person —

because I rejected his sexual advances.

This brave woman documented her harassment over a period of 18 long months. One of the people interviewed as part of the investigation said:

… I watched her, over a period of 18 or so months, just disintegrate, and that was hard.

They also said:

… a person who is that strong, that resilient, a real implementer in an organisation, significant things must have happened for me to watch that kind of person struggle, try to cope, try to rally so many times, to the point where she broke.

How does someone really survive such a period of relentless bullying, harassment and intimidation in our public service?

In a just and fair society we can and should do better to protect each other, and we should not be subject to bullying and harassment. We must always protect the rights of those who are employed, especially in the public service, who are seeking to provide for their families or to achieve a particular career goal. They deserve to be able to do so without fear or harassment.

I commend the work of the committee and hope all the parties to this dispute are dealt with justly. I especially wish the complainant a future of success, good health and happiness.