Goward calls for naval inquiry; HREOC report reveals workplace abuses

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Goward calls for naval inquiry; HREOC report reveals workplace abuses

Labor is supporting calls by federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to conduct an inquiry into claims of sexual assault by members of the HMAS Arunta, while it was berthed on Christmas Island last month during patrol duties to prevent boat people entering Australia.

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Labor is supporting calls by federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to conduct an inquiry into claims of sexual assault by members of the HMAS Arunta, while it was berthed on Christmas Island last month during patrol duties to prevent boat people entering Australia.

A female crew member allegedly broke her hand and wrist while fighting off male assailants, and other allegations include male crew members exposing their genitals in a public bar, swimming nude, stealing a flag and number plates and threatening a naval patrol officer who tried to stop them.

The military police carried out a secret two-week investigation last December. Australian Navy chief Vice-Admiral David Shackleton only found out about the incident yesterday via media reports, and has since called for a second inquiry, to be conducted by a defence force body, to report within a fortnight. A further investigation is underway into allegations of misbehaviour on another navy ship. The Navy is not commenting on reports that six defence force members have been dismissed over the incidents.

Shackleton said such incidents were 'fundamentally at odds' with the standard the navy expected and he was deeply disappointed the message against bastardisation was not getting through. Early last year, most of the 50,000 Australian defence force personnel were shown an anti-bastardisation video and urged to speak out against unacceptable behaviour.

HREOC's Goward told ABC Radio this morning that public confidence required a truly independent inquiry, and HREOC was 'well placed' to conduct it. She said the defence force had failed to change its culture of bastardisation and harassment. Goward addressed the army late last year partly on the defence force initiatives (see 153/2001) and also on the 11 complaints lodged under the Sex Discrimination Act by members of the defence forces, all of whom were made by women.

Acting federal Opposition Leader Jenny Macklin has supported Goward's call.

Discrimination rampant in HREOC annual report

Meanwhile, discrimination is rampant in other Australian workplaces - especially if you're not male, white or able-bodied. The latest annual report from the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission details some shocking abuses.

Race discrimination in employment

  • A Chinese family support service worker who was issued with performance warnings for speaking Chinese to a Chinese client among other things was awarded $15,000 compensation.
  • An Aboriginal labourer was paid $1500 for abuse by employer including comments about his skin colour whenever a black sheep came into sight, and the boss calling him 'eight-ball' and holding him down to write 'eight-ball' on his head.
  • An Indian employee in a Commonwealth Government department whose colleagues called him a 'black c***' and said they 'don't want blacks on this table' was awarded $10,500 compensation. Management took no action when he complained about incidents like having a bag placed on his head and co-workers pulling him round the room saying 'we'll put him back on a boat to India'.

Sex discrimination in employment

  • A casual employee was awarded $8000 in damages after her employer didn't offer her any more work when she announced her pregnancy.
  • A sales manager was awarded $20,000 when her company said after a request to extend her six months' maternity leave that it would have to review her position. She was made redundant, although her job was then readvertised and filled.
  • A personal assistant was awarded $10,000 after her boss started calling her to discuss his marriage and her private life, then tried to kiss her at a work function.
  • A Commonwealth Government employee was awarded $52,000 for harassment on her return to work from maternity leave. This included colleagues 'mooing' at her because she expressed milk for her baby at work, as well as tipping out the milk or leaving notes on it which read 'good in coffee'. Her supervisor also told her she 'ought to be at home with your baby' and a work place is not the place for a mother'.
  • A retail worker who had her car vandalised by a colleague who asked to have sex with him was awarded $10,000. The company allowed her to transfer to another store, but this was a demotion and she suffered repeated comments over the previous sexual harassment.

Disability discrimination in employment

  • A customer service officer was dismissed after two years with a company when a medical examination revealed she had tendonitis, a condition she was previously unaware of. She was awarded $10,000 as compensation for her dismissal.

The report is available on the HREOC website.  

 
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