Senate debates

Monday, 7 December 2020


High Court of Australia; Consideration

6:17 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of take note of document no. 4.

The High Court of Australia's annual report for 2019-20 outlines the High Court's response to 'allegations of sexual harassment against a former justice'. Of course, it is Justice Dyson Heydon of whom we speak. I would like to commend the Chief Justice of the High Court for her swift and comprehensive response, a response that stands in absolutely stark contrast to the response of those in this building and this government to similar allegations. The High Court immediately commissioned an independent investigation into the allegations, and the reviewer, Dr Vivienne Thom, was given a broad scope and support to ensure that her review was targeted towards ensuring similar allegations did not arise in future. Dr Thom's report made clear recommendations to review the culture within the High Court and to invite current and former staff to share their experiences and their views on what could be done to protect staff against sexual harassment. The Chief Justice agreed to all the recommendations. She met with the women who came forward; she believed them. She offered an unreserved apology and expressed her shame that the High Court had not provided them a safe workplace. She is taking steps to make sure that their experiences are not repeated and that the court has a robust complaints process that women can have confidence in.

This government's response to allegations of harassment and bullying within parliamentary offices pales in comparison. The complaints process that exists under the finance department remains weak and without practical consequence. There is little appetite from this government to tackle the culture that allows harassment to go unreported and unpunished. Few commitments have been made in the response to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's Respect@Work recommendations. Coming forward with allegations against those in power will always be difficult and will only happen if we create a culture in which complaints are handled respectfully and confidentially and taken seriously. I commend the brave associate in the High Court who came forward. I commend the High Court for its response and I call on the government to follow the example that the High Court has set, to take serious action to improve the culture in this building and to ensure that this building becomes a place that women can feel safe in.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.