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Infrastructure and Transport - Sexual Harassment

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Tags: Women, Sexism, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, I am sure you take sexual harassment in the workplace very seriously. It has been an elevated topic of conversation in Tasmania. Yesterday, a woman who is a State Service employee from Ashley Youth Detention Centre found out through the media, from the secretary of the State Service, that her complaint case had been dismissed. She said, following that, that she regrets following the process very much because it had been extraordinarily harmful to her. Harassment and bullying is one thing but the process, gaslighting, minimising and blatantly ignoring what has followed is equally, if not more, harmful.

Do you agree it's an appalling situation that the woman had to find out in such a public way? Can you talk about employees in your departments and what sexual harassment processes are in place?

Mr FERGUSON - Dr Woodruff, thank you for the question. I don't have any more information on that matter you've raised on the specific claim that was made. It might have been subject to an ED5 investigation and I am not party to it, so I am not able to comment on it. I am only aware that it was raised at another hearing yesterday. I don't have that advice. I can't comment on it and I mustn't when I am not informed.

CHAIR - The committee doesn't expect you to comment on the specifics of the case because it not relevant to your department, minister.

Mr FERGUSON - I am more than comfortable talking about the general subject, however. I think that's fair.

My expectation is the same rules apply across the public service, through the State Service Management Office supporting the Premier issuing employment directions. That is my expectation as well. We have a shared commitment to stamping out inappropriate practices in any workplace for which we are responsible, not just for women but for all of our employees, recognising that there is an unacceptable history of harassment of women in the workplace, including in government.

Wherever a complaint might exist, it ought to be allowed to be heard, tested and assessed and people provided with natural justice. I am not an expert on this but I stand with anybody who wants to see our workplaces free of discrimination and harassment. I will turn to the deputy secretary to outline how a complaint in our department would be managed.

Mr SWAIN - We do have formal complaint processes for managing staffing issues that would be followed and would generally specific cases sensitively and privately. More broadly than that, we have a values framework which applies across the department. Respect is a key component of that values framework.

We have an equity, diversity and inclusion steering committee that is participated in at executive level and follows on from the work that was done in the department under the White Ribbon initiative. Apart from the challenges that White Ribbon had, there was some recognition that there was some broadening to other issues that needed to be addressed around gender, diversity and inclusion more broadly, from the work that we did with staff through the White Ribbon process.

I think this is a matter that the executive have and are continuing to discuss. We take it really seriously and want State Growth to be an employer of choice for both men and women.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, I won't discuss the complaint; I know nothing about it. I think it's important for us to look at the allegation that was made yesterday which is about State Service processes. The processes have been alleged to be harmful, to be gaslighting and to be minimising. The deputy secretary's comments about things being dealt with sensitively and quietly is perfectly appropriate on the face of it but this situation never had a conclusion.

CHAIR - Have you got a question, Dr Woodruff?

Dr WOODRUFF - Are you going to re-look at the processes that the department has in place, in light of the allegations that have been made, to make sure that sexual harassment cases don't end up in oblivion if they are against bosses or employers for whom it is uncomfortable, if that were ever the case.

Mr FERGUSON - Thank you for the question and I appreciate the way you have asked it. I can only reiterate my earlier answer. I will ask the deputy secretary to provide you with specific advice about how this department manages and is continually improving its processes.

Mr SWAIN - We have just been reminded that we are also working through our watch whole of government process which is looking to tackle this issue. I can't comment either on that specific case but there are two elements to this. There's the legal side and the rights of the person and how that's managed and there's the culture of the organisation.

I probably can't convince you of this but it is something that is regularly discussed within the DSG executive and taken very seriously. I hope that we would stand on our record in terms of the way we've dealt with these matters over the last seven years since the department was created.