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Allegations against Member for Franklin, Mr David O'Byrne

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 1 July 2021

Tags: Women

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, I rise to express my disappointment that the member for Clark, Ms Haddad, did not feel fit to make a statement or an explanation to the House about the situation that has come to light, which is the alleged sexual harassment, inappropriate harassment and engagement by the member for Franklin, Mr O'Byrne, and a former employee of his at the time.

It seems from reports on the ABC that Ms Haddad was one of three people who became aware of the concerns of the complainant between 2007 and 2010. The people named in the ABC article yesterday were Ms Haddad and the independent member for Clark, Ms Kristie Johnston. Both of those people are said to have been close to the complainant, the woman who has made allegations about Mr O'Byrne. It is concerning that Ms Johnston made a statement to the House about this very serious matter and Ms Haddad has failed to do that. It is in many people's minds important to hear from her what she knew about this matter, when she was approached, what steps she took to support the complainant, and what actions she took about the allegations that have been made. The woman who made the complaint left her position where Mr O'Byrne was her boss and moved to a new job at the Health and Community Services Union.

We can talk and talk and talk about consent and women's rights, and the right to not be sexually harassed in a workplace, but this is really where the rubber hits the road for Labor. Labor is the party of unions and workplace support, and here we have a situation, a perfect storm really, where the Leader of the Opposition has been accused of allegations of sexual harassment by him against a junior female employee in a union workplace. It is important that we have more than talk on this matter. We have to show leadership. It is incumbent on everybody in this place to show leadership. There are clear questions about the capacity of Mr O'Byrne to be in a leadership role, in fact it seems untenable. There are also real questions about other people in the Labor Party and the actions they did or did not take and what they are prepared to do now, what strength they are prepared to show in their own character, and the leadership they ought to be showing on behalf of other women.

We have a Workplace Practices and Procedures Committee which met for the first time today. Which members of Labor are going to be on that committee and what are they going to say about workplace conditions? What are they saying about the alleged complaint that has been made? What is Ms Haddad going to say about that to the women and the girls of Clark. What leadership will she show on this matter?

It is very important that she makes a statement to parliament. It is a critical matter of an obvious power imbalance between a boss and an employee. Women obviously do what they can to try to alleviate the sort of very inappropriate text messages that were alleged and the attempted kisses. This is the sort of stuff women too often remain exposed to in workplaces, and to try to stop it escalating - they may not want to be called a prude or seen to be uptight in a workplace where they are trying to fit in. They are a junior person against a senior employee.

We did not hear from Mr O'Byrne any understanding of consent. He clearly does not understand that it is impossible to have consent in a workplace situation like this because women will necessarily and legitimately take actions to try to keep their job security, keep their place in the workplace secure; and they do not want the obvious consequences that could happen by having to stand up to inappropriate and harassing acts from bosses.

That is exactly what happened to the complainant. She said it changed from a situation where she was having positive and warm experiences to, as she said:

“Mr O'Byrne's behaviour changed. He was rude or short with me, treated me differently to the others in a negative and sometimes nasty way, rather than the favourable tone that had been used.”

These are the sorts of subtle things you cannot possibly see unless you are the person experiencing it. You know you are an outcast and there is nothing you can do. You are utterly powerless and you cannot complain to anybody about your boss's tone because they will not believe you.

This is why we need Ms Haddad come in here and make a strong statement of support for that person and to condemn harassment in the workplace