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December 12th 2012 print

Philippa Martyr

Harassment? Well, that depends…

The law no longer sees an unwanted hand on the knee -- or lots of lurid text messages, for that matter -- as quite so sinister. Take it from a judge, it all hangs on the plaintiff's "political motivation"


If you work for a member of parliament, especially a Federal one, you might like to think about the following.


Thanks to the decision in the Federal Court today by Justice Steve Rares, an interesting legal precedent now exists. Sexual harassment — and if you’re not sure what that is, have a look at the Australian Human Rights Commission website — is now permitted in Commonwealth workplaces associated with major political parties. If you’re harassed, you can complain, but your employer can now successfully use "political motivation" as a defence against your complaint, even when the employer’s employer has already paid you off.

So if you work for an MP or in fact in any capacity in any political office, you are now no longer protected against sexual harassment. All your employer has to do is claim that the opposing political party put you up to complaining, and your case will be immediately thrown into doubt.

Of course, it helps if there’s a hung parliament, and the Attorney-General is funding and staffing your opponent’s case, and the government of the day is plummeting in the polls and is up to its neck in corruption charges of various kinds. But none of these things is strictly necessary; the legal precedent is now there, on the books.

Someone needs to alert WA Liberal MLA Troy Buswell about this, pronto. Buswell has been a source of constant media interest for his frank and open way of expressing bonhomie towards people of both sexes. If you want to know more, just visit his Wikipedia entry, although it’s also worth remembering that Buswell’s interest in the bras of fellow party members seems to have been shared by Alan Carpenter, then Labor Premier of WA.

It’s nice, isn’t it, to think that any complaints about workplace behaviour of this kind can now be scrapped as ‘politically motivated’. This is scarcely a step forward for our female Prime Minister and female Attorney General, who seem to have forgotten that the overwhelming majority of sexual harassment victims and complainants are women.

Philippa Martyr blogs at Transverse City