Past issues

Commissioner for Equal Opportunity E-bulletin July 2019

by EOC | Jul 12, 2019

From the Commissioner - Making offices family friendly


The adage ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is still often used. Many employers would have heard it, and there may be a few who have said it themselves, however when it comes to managing employees’ family responsibilities not all employers assist its practise.

On 1 July this year Baker McKenzie will become the first law firm in Australia to announce gender equal parental leave by removing the definitions of ‘primary carer’ and ‘secondary carer’ from its policy.

All eligible employees who welcome a new child will be entitled to 18 weeks paid leave regardless of whether there is another parent at home.

These employees will also have up to two years from the birth or adoption of a child to take their paid parental leave, rather than 12 months.

This is progressive policy that sets an outstanding example, not only for the legal industry but every industry in Australia.

As Chair of Baker McKenzie Diversity and Inclusion Committee said, “gender neutral parental leave policies help us move away from women having babies to people raising families.”

Western Australia still lags the rest of the country with a gender pay gap of XX.

Part of that is the expectation women will leave full time work to care for children, and workplace policies reinforce that gender stereotype by providing incentives to primary carers who are often, women.

However, companies need to also make it easier for men to fulfil family responsibilities and for secondary carers to support primary carers, so that both may be able to access work and family in a balanced way.

Organisations need to be aware that family responsibility discrimination in employment in Western Australia is unlawful.

It does not matter what position you hold in an organisation, if you need to care for a family member you should be able to reasonably balance this with your work responsibilities.

Due to an illness in the family I, like many grandparents in Australia, have significant carer responsibilities and am fortunate to have flexible working arrangements that allow me to meet both my carer responsibilities and my responsibilities as Commissioner for Equal Opportunity.

Balancing these responsibilities is important and rewarding for all of us. I strongly encourage all fathers and grandfathers to take time to do it when they can.  

Acting Commissioner for Equal Opportunity John Byrne

Commissioner Dr John Byrne



Celebrating NAIDOC

This year the Commission celebrated NAIDOC Week with a stall at the Mirrabooka NAIDOC Event and NAIDOC Family Day at Ashfield Reserve.

WA Equal Opportunity Commissioner Dr John Byrne said both stalls were busy this year with our Aboriginal Calendar artwork competition running and the sun shining.

“We received some amazing entries for our Aboriginal Calendar artwork competition this year.

“The theme Voice Treaty Truth, which was also the theme for NAIDOC Week this year, gave participants a lot of inspiration and the good weather brought many people to our stall,” he said.

Dr Byrne said it was encouraging to see so many people celebrating such an important week on the Australian calendar.

“All Australians should be proud of the enduring and enriching cultural heritage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have given this country,” he said.

Girls drawing at NAIDOC
Girls participating in the artwork competition at NAIDOC Family Day





Schooling Legalwise audience on discrimination law


The Commission’s Senior Legal Officer Allan Macdonald recently spoke at a Legalwise seminar about how equal opportunity and human rights law related to schools.

The audience of education and legal practitioners listened to Mr Macdonald speak about how equal opportunity law related to harassment, sport and school uniforms.

“School uniforms are quite topical at the moment following the Department of Education and private schools such as Penrhos College changing their school uniform policies to include pants and shorts for girls,” Mr Macdonald said.

Mr Macdonald said hair length and jewellery as part of a school dress code were also discussed.

“Following the very public discussion about Hindu girl Sanya Singhal who was barred from Aranmore Catholic College for wearing a nose piercing, this issue is of particular interest to schools,” he said.

Mr Macdonald also spoke about whether it was unlawful to stop transgender students from competing in sporting activities as their chosen gender.

“An exception applies to participation in any competitive sporting activity if strength, stamina or physique of competitors is relevant.

“For example, in a game of darts strength, stamina or physique would not be relevant, but in football or athletics it would,” he said.

Mr Macdonald said with children under the age of 12 it is unlawful to not allow them to compete in a sporting activity because of their sex or gender identity.

He said racial harassment and sexual harassment of a student by a teacher was rarely reported in the Commission’s data.

“We always say our data is just the tip of the iceberg.

“Only a small proportion of people who are the targets of discrimination and harassment report this behaviour, let alone lodge a complaint with an organisation like the Commission,” he said. 


Senior Legal Officer Allan Macdonald



Alluring clothing not a defence for sexual harassment

Owen Hughes, the principal of norther NSW boutique law firm Beesley and Hughes was found by the Federal Circuit Court to have ‘unequivocally’ engaged in conduct ‘the law of sexual harassment seeks to eliminate’.

Catherine Hill was admitted to the practice in 2015 and began working for Mr Hughes as a paralegal.

The sexual harassment listed in evidence included inviting Ms Hill on a work trip to Sydney where in the evening Mr Hughes surreptitiously entered the Ms Hill’s bedroom in his underwear, asking her to let him in to avoid him being bitten by mosquitoes.

The following morning, he re-entered Ms Hill’s room using the excuse that he had left some papers in the room.

Following the work trip Mr Hughes coerced hugs from Ms Hill on a number of occasions by blocking her exit and putting her in a position where she felt she could not decline.

He bombarded her emails despite Ms Hill making it clear she was not interested in a personal relationship with Mr Hughes.

The emails contained veiled threats that her employment depended on her entering a sexual or romantic relationship with Mr Hughes.

In his statement, Mr Hughes attempted to blame Ms Hill by saying she had been flirty and coquettish wearing ‘alluring dresses to the office’.

The Court responded by saying it was the mark of a bygone era where women, by their mere presence, were responsible for the reprehensible behaviour of men.

Mr Hughes was found to have sexually harassed Ms Hill and ordered to pay her damages in the sum of $170,000 by way of compensation for loss and damage suffered.

HILL v HUGHES  [2019] FCCA 1267




Age Discrimination Commissioner visit

Age Discrimination Commissioner the Hon Dr Kay Patterson AO came to visit the Commission on Friday 28 June to hold consultations and chat to staff about her work in the Federal area of age discrimination.

Dr Patterson spoke to staff about the growing problem of homelessness among older women and some progressive ideas around aged care in the NSW city of Wollongong in an aging community.

WA Equal Opportunity Commissioner Dr John Byrne said it was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about what initiatives Dr Patterson was working on.

“Dr Patterson spoke to staff about our ageing population, high cost of housing and the significant gap in wealth accumulation between men and women across their lifetimes.

“She said without innovative solutions this problem would continue to increase,” Dr Byrne said.

He said Dr Patterson spoke about a project undertaken by Lendlease to develop a Health and Wellbeing Precinct at the University of Wollongong (UOW).

“It will be a space where patient-centred health care, aged care, retirement living facilities, as well as research and teaching programs are integrated.

“Dr Patterson spoke about how innovative centres like the one at UOW are, and the important role they play for an aging population,” Dr Byrne said.

Dr John Byrne and Dr Patterson

Dr Kay Patterson and Dr John Byrne




What's coming up

The Commission’s Training Calendar from July to December 2019 is now available. You can register for all Commission courses on the Community Education page.

24 July            Introduction to Equal Opportunity Law

6 August          Sexual Harassment - Know where the line is

14 August        Contact Officer Role

Please contact us on 9216 3900 if you are interested in organisation specific training or for a rights-based session for your clients or community members.