You are here

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Tags: Women, Workers Rights, Sexism

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, how much time remains for this debate?

Mr SPEAKER - It will finish in two and a half minutes.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will start by acknowledging the women who are at the centre of this motion that we are debating today. I commend Ms Midson for her bravery, and give her my undivided respect for the strength she has shown in continuing throughout this process and maintaining her dignity. I cannot imagine how hard these circumstances have been for her, and other women who have yet to name themselves, if they ever do.

I am really thinking of women and survivors of sexual harassment and sexual violence in Tasmania. I am aware from my conversations with the women I have spoken to that they are shocked at the finding of the Labor Party investigation, and are deeply concerned that the Labor Party has tried to redefine sexual harassment. They have tried to do this, despite the admission of guilt from Mr O'Byrne. The way they have done this is to use some very tricky wording about how the behaviour that Mr O'Byrne took was not, at the time, in 2007, a defined sexual harassment policy within the Labor Party.

I find that so craven, weasel-ly and revolting, to resort to something so thin a defence in this circumstance, when it is really obvious that abuse is abuse, and you do not need a policy to say so.

It does not pass the test of any woman I have spoken to in Tasmania. It was certainly comprehensively thrown out by Yvette Cehtel, from the Women's Legal Service Tasmania, who says Mr O'Byrne has undermined his initial apology and made a mockery of it by changing his tune, and that they are side stepping responsibility with the independent review, which appears to have tried to clear him of the sexual harassment complaints.

I find it deeply disturbing that women who want to feel that, at this time in our society, we are having a conversation that enables them to speak about abuse and harassment, but they have been re traumatised by their own experience and told that, according to Labor Party policy, they cannot do that.

I will continue this in the adjournment.


Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, I rise to continue some comments on the matters that have been circulating in this place today, but have been widely discussed in the community for the last couple of months. That is in relation to Mr David O'Byrne and his sexual harassment of Ms Rachel Midson in 2007. My focus is on the processes that have been undertaken to investigate that complaint and the actions as a result. The processes undertaken are deeply distressing for Tasmanian women and girls, particularly the majority of us who have experienced sexual harassment or abuse, humiliation, intimidation or violence.

It is the majority of women who have had an experience like that in their life. The March 4 Justice happened in March this year on the back of the disgraceful, shameful behaviour in federal parliament. The failure of the Prime Minister to listen to Brittany Higgins, to attend the March 4 Justice rally, the outrage of women around Australia was palpable. All of us who were present at the March 4 Justice rally, along with Grace Tame - who spoke so powerfully - felt very clearly that the time was up and we have to do everything we can as individuals in every capacity we have to make sure we do not let this behaviour go unspoken and without consequences.

I committed myself as a member of parliament to do everything I could to talk about positive actions and to be very clear we must have consequences for behaviour which is unacceptable. It always has been, but it has to be called out and made unacceptable through consequences for actions that have been taken.

The Labor Party's investigation into David O'Byrne's admission of sexually harassing his junior employee, a woman 16 years younger than him in 2007, found he was not guilty of sexual harassment. That is an impossible finding. I cannot actually understand how it is possible Ms Deegan and anyone else who was involved in that process can look at themselves in the mirror in the morning. I cannot understand how, after a man has made a public statement acknowledging guilt, acknowledging the behaviours that Ms Midson accused him of, that they could find him not guilty of sexual harassment.

The only way they did that was through weasel words and a pathetic act of language to say that although they found the conduct was inappropriate and wrong, it does not mean that it was in breach of the policy as in force at the relevant time. So because the Labor Party did not have a policy, or did not have an adequate policy, that said that members must not sexually harass other people, therefore it could not have been sexual harassment because they did not have a policy written down, words on a paper.

Any form of abuse, any form of malpractice, any form of bad behaviour, any form of corruption that was not written down on a piece of paper, or still is not written down on a piece of paper, is not a problem because it is not written down on a piece of paper. Well, women in Australia, women in Tasmania and girls, we do not have to have it written down on a piece of paper.

It is manifestly unacceptable to use power in a workplace and to intimidate a younger person and to interpret her beautiful young energy and dynamism and bubbliness as evidence that sex is on the cards. This is what has happened, the so-called flirtatious atmosphere that was referred to by Ms Deegan. She said she found that at the time the conduct occurred there was a 'consensual and flirtatious atmosphere about the interactions between the complainant and the respondent'. What that means is that a flirtatious atmosphere, in other words, the friendly, energetic and bubbly nature of Ms Midson as a young woman in the workplace was taken as an invitation to have a sexual relationship and it was interpreted as consent.

That is clearly what Mr O’Byrne interpreted it as. As he said, when he has tried to backtrack on his statement, he understood it was consensual. It is clearly not okay for a woman not to be able to express her true self and have that taken as a licence for sexual advances.

Women would remember the General Angus Campbell statement which came out, also in March this year. It just happened to be at the same time as the March4Justice around that period. He made some really interesting comments to female defence force cadets. He advised them, if they wanted to look after themselves, then they needed to practice the four As. They needed to make sure they did not drink alcohol, do not stay out after midnight, do not go out alone and do not look too attractive. Women reject that. We are looking for action from the Labor Party, not words.