15 May 2018

Sexual harassment at Commission, but 'not endemic'

3:24 pm on 15 May 2018

There was sexual harrassment at the Human Rights Commission, a review sparked by an alleged sexual assault at the organisation has found.

No caption

Photo: Screenshot / Human Rights Commission

The government has just released a ministerial review, led by retired Judge Coral Shaw, into how the commission handles such accusations internally.

Judge Shaw concluded that sexual harassment had occurred at the commission, though it was "not prevalent or endemic".

She also found there was a "deep divide" between some staff and their managers, and a lack of trust among staff that any complaints would be handled appropriately.

The review was sparked after a former intern came forward to say she was harassed by a senior commission staff member last year.

The review found the organisation did not provide the right care or support to staff who made such sexual harassment complaints, and the policy used to investigate the 2017 incident was out of date.

The current board was compromised by a lack of cooperation between commissioners and the chief executive, Judge Shaw found.

"Participants expressed pride in the achievements of the [commission] and passion for the work that they do," she wrote.

"They want the values of the [commission] to be echoed in the workplace, and look forward to a time when the current divisions and tensions are no longer part of their working lives."

Among the 31 recommendations the review made was that, "notwithstanding their present disagreements", the current commissioners should do their best to cooperate professionally.

The review also recommended that the commission's human resources capacity "be urgently reviewed and strengthened".

It said all health and safety policies should be revised or developed, with input from staff.

Justice Minister Andrew Little said he had spoken to both groups and would meet with the State Services Commission today to discuss how to fulfil the report's recommendations.

He said he'd be looking at the appointments of commissioners.

Some of those were about to - or had - expired, he said.

"I've indicated to all the commissioners that it would be a matter of priority for me now to consider appointments and reappointments ... I'd held off dealing with that issue pending this report and it's now obviously a matter of priority."

Mr Little said he could not comment on individual commissioners and their appointments.

Mr Little said the woman whose complaints caused the review could feel vindicated, as the issues she'd raised were true.

"The report finds the sexual harassment grievance procedures that were being used were clearly inadequate and were described as outdated."