You are here

Attorney-General and Justice - Sexual Harassment

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Tags: State Budget, Public Service

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, the woman whose determination about her complaint of sexual harassment at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre was made public on Monday says there must be significant and drastic reform to the way the state service handles such cases.

Her name is Alysha, and she is staggered at how badly her complaint was handled. She said -

Yesterday was one of the most shocking days of my adult life at the end of a process that has left me feeling quite objectified and exhausted. From where I am standing after yesterday, at the end of a 22-month investigation, I would dissuade people, honestly, if it was about their health and wellbeing and looking after themselves. The process that is in place is ridiculously harmful, and I understand fully why women feel like there is a significant risk to their career and themselves by reporting these matters.

She said she had trusted that the State Service would prioritise her safety, and that a thorough independent and timely investigation would ensue. In relation to that botched review, which took 22 months to complete, yesterday the Premier said -

There will be an independent review conducted at arm's length from Government of the process that occurred here. I would expect that to be completed within a period of 30 days.

How long do reviews of sexual harassment complaints take to be completed in the Department of Justice?

Ms ARCHER - You're talking about the internal process, if there was a similar occurrence of a complaint made?

Dr WOODRUFF - The allegation is that the State Service Act, she said yesterday, needs to be burnt and rewritten. I take it you wouldn't like to comment on whether we need to do that? It is probably the Premier's portfolio.

Ms ARCHER - The State Service Act is his domain.

Dr WOODRUFF - Correct. What I am asking you is how long, within the Department of Justice right now, do reviews of sexual harassment complaints take to be completed? How many are there? What are the outlier times? Is there an average?

Ms ARCHER - That is a matter that the secretary would deal with, so I will ask her to address that, and if we don’t have figures, then possibly on notice.

Ms WEBSTER - I don't have the figures for the exact numbers of those complaints and how long it would take. Through you, Attorney-General, I would say it is done investigation by investigation. I know that other hearings have heard about the process, but from my perspective as the head of agency, it is really important to ensure that we have support for everyone involved in the process when there is a complaint or a code of conduct investigation, and also protection for them, including referral to our employee assistance program.

I have direct advice on a weekly basis about the status of all of those complaints and what stage they are at. It is really important for me as well in terms of natural justice. There may be a number of witnesses that we need to interview, so that can also determine the length of an inquiry. We have a duty of care for everyone involved in the process, and it is a challenging process for everyone where there is a complaint.

We follow that process, we engage independent investigators for our process, and how long it takes can often also depend on their availability. We also try to prioritise those serious complaints, or where we do have witnesses who may be affected.

Through the Attorney-General, we could take your questions on notice, Dr Woodruff.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. I'll write a question on notice about the last two-year period, and the number of complaints and the length of time.

Ms ARCHER - We have to be clear on that question and that the note gets written straight away. I am getting clarity here, because we sometimes get questions that are different to the questions that were asked at the table, so I am making it very clear what the question was.

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, do you mind just putting this in?

Dr WOODRUFF - I was just about to. I will ask the question: for the last two years, how many complaints have there been, and what is the length of time for coming to a determination for each of those complaints?

I have a second question, thank you. One of the many issues for Alysha was that during the process of the investigation, she was required to work in immediate proximity to the person she had made the complaint against, her manager, who had made despicable comments about her in the workplace, and that was obviously an intolerable situation for her.

Is there, or do you think there should be, a finite length of time for sexual harassment complaints to be completed? What happens in the situation where people are working in proximity of each other, in the same office, or coming across each other? What is put in place to protect the person who has made the complaint?

Ms ARCHER - I understand you're talking generally and using that case as an example, but specifically in relation to the Department of Justice and how we handle these complaints and those types of issues, I'll ask the secretary to address what our processes are.

Ms WEBSTER - Thank you. Through you, Attorney-General, we would have a conversation around what's the best approach for the person making the complaint, what's appropriate and whether they wish to remain in the workplace.

It's important that these matters are dealt with on an individual basis, case by case. Communication with the complainant is really important in that regard, and it also depends on the workplace. It may be that we remove the alleged perpetrator and place them in another location. So, it is very much a case-by-case basis, and we would have that conversation at executive level within the agency.

Dr WOODRUFF - Do you think there's a length of time that should be a maximum for when these complaints are resolved?

Ms ARCHER - Again, I'll talk generally, because we're dealing with hypotheticals. There will be some matters which are quite simple to investigate, and there'll be other matters that are quite complex. There'll be a number of issues that need to be investigated, and as you'll appreciate, with due process it's going back and forth, and allowing the both the complainant and the respondent the ability to have their say in relation to what has been alleged is occurring.

It does very much depend on individual cases, as the secretary referred to. There might be one complaint, while others might encapsulate a number of different instances over a period of time, which would take further to investigate. I can't really give you an opinion on a hypothetical like that, other than to say I'm sure the department attempts to resolve disputes in a timely manner and as quickly as possible.

I'm sure that in some circumstances, too, there may need to be a referral to an independent investigator, or it involves that sort of thing, but again I'm talking hypothetically on the basis of my own legal experience, having represented people on both sides of this type of complaint. It can be very complex and therefore take longer. I'm not suggesting that taking a long time is in any way acceptable, but in some circumstances it's unavoidable.