Canberra culture reignites scrutiny over treatment of women in the workplace

In a Senate hearing during 2020 Prime Minister Scott Morrison was reported to be highly critical of Australia Post rewarding four managers with $5,000 Cartier watches, declaring it to be “disgraceful” and stated that the CEO should step down. These comments directed at Christine Holgate were highly publicised, stimulating controversy over mistreatment of women in government.

The Senate Environment and Communications References committee (“the Committee”) reported his comments as being “ill informed” and left Ms Holgate feeling humiliated and having her health “severely compromised”. She was ultimately stood down from her role as CEO of Australia Post – a move allegedly informed by the Minister of Communications informal instructions’. The Committee’s report found such a decision as lacking procedural fairness and did not provide Ms Holgate with “an opportunity to defend her actions”.

“The intense public scrutiny and lack of support from Australia Post resulted in Ms Holgate starting 22 October 2020 as one of the most influential women in Australian business and a successful and popular CEO, and ending the day disgraced and humiliated, hiding from reporters and feeling suicidal,” the Committee report said.

In Christine Holgate’s submission, she stated that our nation’s leaders “should lead by example and respect those who work with them”.

The time is now not only for the government, but all Australian workplaces, to look within and take valuable lessons from these incidences to improve their own workplace culture and respect.

In response to the current concerns over the treatment of women in Canberra, the Australian Human Rights Commission is conducting an Independent Review to build a cultural understanding of Commonwealth Parliamentary workplaces. The investigation will serve to ensure a safe and respectful work environment. The Commission will report on its findings and recommendations in a report to be tabled in Parliament in November 2021.

At Elit Lawyers by McGirr & Snell, we highly are passionate about the equal treatment of women and advocate for safety, dignity and respect in the workplace.

For a confidential discussion to discuss any concerns you may have and find out more about the complaints process available to women who have experienced sexual discrimination and or bullying in the workplace, please contact Danielle Snell.

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