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And should the Federal Parliament, realistically, be guiding us on cultural issues, or is that outside its remit?

In which case was the Prime Minister limited in his commitment, on 20 March, at the height of the Canberra sex abuse crisis, that he was “doing everything in my authority to take the actions that are needed to fix the culture in our Parliament and work to make Australia a safer place for women”?

Briefly, it’s alleged Christian Porter raped a young woman in 1988, which he strenuously denies. Amid a public furore in March he was demoted from Attorney General and Leader of the House to the lesser cabinet ministry of Industry, Science and Technology.

He’s now been promoted back to Acting Leader of the House while Peter Dutton is in quarantine.

It would seem there are three impacted groups here who, if this occurred in the corporate sector, a board would owe a duty of care to:

  • Many Australians, mainly women, for whom Grace Tame, Australian of the Year and a victim of sexual abuse is a flag carrier, believe they have been affected by inappropriate behaviour or attitudes in the workplace. Tame has written, “it isn’t just Porter’s character that’s in question here, it’s the morality of our current leadership” – her opinion piece, here.
  •  The women who work in the parliament, apparently many, who believe some men’s attitudes hover between chauvinism and misogyny.
  •  Christian Porter, who now appears a diminished person, a victim of his and the PM’s mishandling of the issue, but who still deserves the presumption of innocence until proved otherwise.

There are, of course, other affected people, including the family of Porter’s accuser, who must still be grappling with their loss.

If this all looks like mistake heaped upon mistakes, by comparison, as corporate affairs consultants we are currently advising an organisation on an alleged rape case by its CEO.

The similarities with the Porter case? It is alleged to have happened years ago, not in the current workplace, and the competent CEO strenuously denies it. But that’s where the similarities appear to stop.

The Board has worked hard to employ what is considered best practice in the corporate sector: it accepts a duty of care to all the staff, and also to the CEO; it is also conscious that outsiders, mainly women, may be affected by any clumsiness on the way this is managed.

So the Board agreed, as one of a number of initiatives including restricting the CEO’s workplace activities, that an independent external investigator undertakes an inquiry about how the staff feel about him staying on as CEO, or not, and if so, under what conditions.

The investigation was quick. Nimbleness is an important aspect of these investigations. If there is anxiety amongst staff, who may need counselling, and the CEO needs to be removed, it needs to be done nimbly.

The Board had no say in who the investigator, a woman, was; has had no contact with her; and the interviews with staff are forever confidential to everyone except the investigator (unless otherwise required by law).

The investigator has made a number of recommendations about the CEO and on policies and other matters to protect staff. It’s clear from the recommendations that it only takes a few initiatives to act in the best interests of all parties, short term.

Culture change, which is what Scott Morrison has committed to above, takes longer.

Author Peter Wilkinson

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