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Call for sexual harassment inquiry at Town Hall

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An Adelaide City councillor has called for an investigation into the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault at Town Hall – focusing only on staff, not elected members –  in the wake of a damning sexual harassment report into State Parliament.

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Central ward councillor Greg Mackie will tonight call on the council to publicly reveal the number of sexual assault and harassment allegations lodged by and against council employees, volunteers and contractors since March 2011.

He will also ask the council to outline how many allegations were investigated and what action staff took in response.

It comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison faces growing pressure to launch an independent inquiry into rape allegations against Attorney-General Christian Porter and the State Parliament responds to recommendations made in a damning Equal Opportunity Commission report.

Mackie wants councillors to note the public controversy about the “toxic culture” in state and federal parliament.

He said city ratepayers and visitors had a right to expect that the council was a “best practice” workplace that took allegations of harassment or assault seriously.

“What has been revealed recently has suggested that in two parliaments we have cultures issues and it’s therefore timely for us to take a look at us and ask some questions ourselves,” he said.

“Hopefully what we will receive is a clean bill of health, but I’m looking for the evidence.

“I’m interested and concerned enough in terms of my duty of care to ensure that our people who serve the city and the community of Adelaide that we’re a fit organisation to steward the city.”

However, Mackie said it was not necessary to look into any potential allegations of sexual harassment or assault by elected members over that time period because “what goes on as far as the elected body goes is public information and it’s already out there”.

“Lots of people have opinions about the political body of council as a toxic place,” he said.

“Obviously that’s of interest, but the point I’m making is about our role as an employer and elected members are not employees.”

Mackie, who is a former Department of the Premier and Cabinet deputy chief executive and Arts SA executive director, said there was the “odd rumour and inuendo” of sexual harassment or assault occurring within State Government departments, but he refused to provide detail.

He instead described the public sector as a “large organisation”, with “a lot of employees in various levels of seniority or service”.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has again ruled out calling an independent inquiry into rape allegations against Attorney-General Christian Porter, who is currently on leave after vehemently denying he raped an Adelaide woman more than 30 years ago.

The woman who made the claim took her own life last year after telling NSW Police she did not want to proceed with her complaint.

While Labor, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and some of the woman’s friends have backed calls for an independent inquiry into the allegations, Morrison today argued the allegations should be dealt with through the police and the courts.

“I see no justification for any extrajudicial inquiry that might be set up by a prime minister or any other politician,” he said.

“We have competent and authorised agencies to deal with these matters both through the police and the courts, and that is where I will make my assessments of those matters. That is where it should be done.”

State Parliament is dealing with its own sexual assault and harassment scandal, spurred by last week’s release of an Equal Opportunity Commission report outlining allegations of MPs rubbing their legs against women and placing their hand up a female staffer’s skirt.

Legislative Council President John Dawkins told parliament last week that he would work with the House of Assembly Speaker Josh Teague and the clerks of both houses to implement the report’s recommendations.

Spike in calls for assistance 

According to Uniting Communities, the organisation that runs crisis and suicide prevention support service Lifeline in South Australia, there has been an increase in calls relating to sexual assault while the media reports on alleged sexual assault in State and Federal Parliament.

Uniting Communities advocacy and communications manager Mark Henley told InDaily that anecdotal feedback suggested a “discernible increase in calls on this topic”.

“It does seem that the public reporting of these stories is also triggering responses from other people who have experienced assault, recently or in the past,” he said.

But national sexual violence support service 1800RESPECT data shows the number of people seeking assistance has remained stable, at about 5000 calls per week.

“When sexual violence is reported in the media, we will often see more people reaching out for support,” a spokesperson said.

“While media reports highlight the impacts of violence, they can be very real reminders of what a person has or is experiencing.

“It can bring up painful and distressing memories of past violence and also encourage victims to feel they can speak up.”

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au 

You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

– with AAP

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