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Intercourse discrimination commissioner says Australia at ‘turning level’ on sexual harassment and assault | Australian politics

Australian Gender Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins believes Australia is “at a turning point” in the public discussion of sexual harassment and assault and stresses the need for “restorative” approaches and responses.

Jenkins was hired by the Morrison government to conduct a parliamentary work culture review. This review was triggered by allegations of rape made against an employee by former government employee Brittany Higgins.

The commissioner for discrimination based on the sex informed the ABC on Sunday that the ground was shifting. “In my time in this field, and especially in my 30 years at work, I’ve never seen a moment like this,” said Jenkins.

She said the cultural change had taken place “across the board”.

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

In response to the ongoing excitement generated by the Higgins claim, Jenkins was asked to consider legal, cultural, structural, or other obstacles to reporting incidents in parliamentary workplaces, as well as the current response and reporting mechanisms in parliamentary workplaces examine.

She will also review the functioning of the Parliamentary Workers Act – the legislation under which political staff is employed – and “assess the extent to which current laws, guidelines, processes and practices promote or hinder safe and respectful workplaces”.

Higgins initially filed a police complaint following the alleged attack in March 2019, but abandoned it a month later as the government prepared for an election. She said she felt that pursuing the complaint would end her career in political personnel.

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

“There’s a strange culture of silence at the parties and you just don’t do it… the idea of ​​speaking out on issues like that, especially around the area [an election] Campaign is like disappointing the team, you are not a team player, ”Higgins told Ten.

Jenkins signaled that the likely endpoint of their investigation – which will be made public in November – was a new, “more independent” grievance mechanism for parliamentary staff to handle staffing issues.

The sex discrimination commissioner said she was unable to definitively say what the outcome of her investigation would be, but based on comparative studies she had seen internationally, more independence seemed a logical direction to change the dynamics of power in the parliamentary workplace.

Jenkins said it was important to review employment tools for parliamentary staff as the conditions were inconsistent with company staffing standards.

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

“One of them is this layer of employment agreements because it’s so unusual who has the power to hire and fire – all of this is slightly different from the average community, so I think this is relevant.”

Jenkins was asked on Sunday whether it should be mandatory to report sexual assault allegations to the police. Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw has urged MPs to immediately report all allegations to the authorities, “taking into account the rights and privacy of the victim and regardless of the jurisdiction in which the alleged behavior took place”.

In a recent letter to MPs, Kershaw said any delay in reporting criminal behavior “could result in the loss of important evidence, continuation of the offense and / or re-insult by the alleged perpetrator” and “has very real potential, the rights to endanger “victims and other parties to alleged crimes”.

Jenkins said approaches need to be victim-centered. “It should be an individual choice,” she said.

But she said her review would investigate the issues. Jenkins said reporting “shouldn’t be taken out of the hands of the victim, but I think our investigation will look specifically at this issue as I think it’s a really nasty problem for these ministers what to do.” ”.

She said her review would accept submissions from interested parties that may be confidential. She said complaints of harassment raised during the trial were not examined to “find an outcome of justice” but rather to see what systemic changes would be needed to improve the work environment.

In Australia, the crisis support service is Lifeline 13 11 14. If you or someone you know has been subjected to sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT at 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. Call 000 in an emergency. You can find international helplines at www.befrienders.org

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