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Prevention of Family Violence - Sexual Harassment

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 9 September 2021

Tags: Women, Sexism, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF - The Prime Minister's Womens National Safety Summit was held this week and it was a very important event. I listened to a number of the women's contributions and want to read to you from a comment Geraldine Bilston made - a very passionate survivor who is now, like Grace Tame, a great speaker on behalf of women who have suffered violence and harassment. She said

When we have a society that disrespects women and doesn't value women, that structurally facilitates perpetrators being able to abuse their victims at home.

We have become quite concerned over the last couple of months there has been a succession of instances come to light where women have spoken up about sexual harassment, abuse, assault. Despite their situations being acknowledged as having occurred, they have not resulted in any real and meaningful change or sanction and, in some cases, the women have not been believed.

I am sure you would agree public leadership is really important and the State Service and the role of the State Service in listening to women is important in setting a culture which does not permit harassment or violence of any form.

Can you please tell me what actions you are proposing to take as the Minister for Women and Family Violence on the back of the appalling breach of rights of the woman from the Ashley Youth Detention Centre in being informed of the outcome of her complaint of sexual harassment, abuse and assault on Monday, in public. This was not to her personally, and the length of time for her complaint to be resolved and whether you are going to making some recommendations about the complaints processes in the State Service and a full review of the State Service Act in that regard.

Mrs PETRUSMA - The Premier's undertaking is for a full review of the State Service Act in that regard.

Mrs PETRUSMA - The Premier's undertaking is for a full review of the State Service Act. The Premier said that he would look at it after the very important review that's being undertaken by our Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Sarah Bolt.

Dr WOODRUFF - Did he say he'd be reviewing the State Service Act on that aspect? Is it an independent review of her case?

Mrs PETRUSMA - The Premier said he will make a decision about whether a full review is needed, after the parliamentary review. That review would involve a few hundred people, and if incidents of sexual harassment and other issues are raised in that process, it would indicate there is a big problem across the State Service. That was his undertaking; it must have been in Estimates in the upper House.

Investigations happen at arms-length from ministers. My gut instinct when I heard Alysha was 'wrong, wrong', and, on her behalf, I found the issue quite distressing and alarming. A lot of conversations will be involved - I can assure you of that.

La Trobe University put out a body of research yesterday, described as a road map for policy makers and organisations working to tackle sexual violence. It's published with a report that will form part of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children. I can table a copy of the report. It is about guiding principles, focusing on gender equality and drivers of perpetration. It uses an intersectional lens to consider how gender bias, ability, sexuality, socioeconomic status and other inequities, as well as access and power, influence greater sexual violence, victimisation and perpetration in some groups. The report also highlights 'do no harm'; how to evaluate and monitor interventions; how to implement evidence-based interventions; and using a life-course and development approach. It's a whole body of work that I am going through, to get a better understanding of what might form part of the next action plan.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. Do you agree that we need to look at the sorts of standards that we require for a response to sexual harassment in the workplace? One issue that probably is not acknowledged - although it is obvious - is the gendered lens as well as the power imbalance between an employer and an employee. We need much stronger statements of expectation and consequences for this behaviour in the workplace.

At the moment, jokes can be made which aren't funny; they're abusive, and deeply harmful - as was the case of Alysha at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre - but they're not seen as serious. There is a gap between our understanding of a comment which is allegedly made as a joke, but which has harmful and traumatising impacts on the person who is the subject of it.

Mrs PETRUSMA - It's devastating, especially for our young people. Today is R U OK? Day, and we should remember that the words we use can be devastating. Words can have lifetime consequences. As a survivor of family violence, I can say while the bruises and stuff might heal, the words sometimes take a long time to get over.