I rise today to table the report of the Review of Harassment in the South Australian Legal Profession and to inform the house about the important action the government has already taken and will continue to take to ensure legal work practices are safe and free from bullying and harassment.
In response to a motion passed by the South Australian Legislative Council on 14 October 2020, Acting Commissioner Steph Halliday presented the report on the Review of Harassment in the South Australian Legal Profession to me on 9 April 2021. The findings of the report highlighted the prevalence of sexual and discriminatory harassment in the legal profession, finding that 42 per cent of survey respondents reported they had experienced sexual or discriminatory harassment. Of this 42 per cent who experienced harassment, one-third experienced it more than once and 43 per cent of survey respondents reported having experienced offensive comments or jokes made about a personal attribute protected by the Equal Opportunity Act.
The report further identified features exacerbating workplace harassment in the legal profession, specifically:
a patriarchal and hierarchical culture characterised by intense competition
a lack of cultural diversity…
deeply entrenched gender bias that underpins discriminatory behaviour
a 'culture of silence' whereby instances of harassment are minimised, normalised and kept quiet.
None of this is acceptable and we will be taking action. The report made several recommendations which this government is currently considering, primarily relating to legislative reform, workplace policies and education.
In accordance with recommendation 15, I have made the report publicly available and distributed it to key legal stakeholders identified. Further, I wrote to the South Australian Employment Tribunal and the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, as well as to heads of jurisdiction, to ensure the important information in the report was widely disseminated amongst the judiciary. While the recommendations set out in the report will require significant consideration, I am pleased to announce that work has already commenced.
Recommendation 2 asks all persons conducting a business or undertaking of a legal nature to review and, where necessary, update their policies, procedures and processes to address the risk of harm arising from sexual and discriminatory harassment. Accordingly, I have written to the Crown Solicitor, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Director of the Legal Services Commission seeking formal feedback on a proposal making it a condition that externally engaged legal practitioners have undertaken the work recommended by the acting commissioner in recommendation 2. All three have verbally indicated their support for this measure; in other words, if you have not signed up, you will not get the brief.
Given these bodies brief out a significant amount of legal work, it will make an important difference in shifting cultural attitudes. In support of this, I have requested the Law Society and Bar Association to consider supporting the implementation of recommendation 2 by developing a suite of model policies and procedures that can be used by legal workplaces. I am aware that the Law Society will be commencing their own CPD mandatory training to cover this area in July this year and I commend them for doing so.
I have additionally written to SafeWork SA; the Legal Profession Conduct Commissioner, Mr Greg May; and the Commissioner for Equal Opportunity about recommendation 13, seeking their support to enter into an agreement that would allow these officers to share information relating to reports, complaints and other information about harassment by a member of the legal profession. The recommendations relating to legislative reform are the subject of advice from my department and I will respond to those in due course.
As the largest employer of lawyers in the state—that is, the Attorney-General's Department—it is important that this department lead by example. I confirm that the Attorney-General's Department is working towards reaccreditation as a White Ribbon workplace and, as part of this process:
has reviewed our HR policies in line with recommendation 2;
continues to implement its Gender Equality and Respect Action Plans consistent with the Our Watch standards in line with recommendation 1;
is ensuring our leadership programs and opportunities are accessible and are accessed by women; and
is reporting on workplace equality and respect activities in our annual report.
I can confirm that the chief executive, Ms Caroline Mealor, is already working with other departments to ensure that that standard is reached in other private agencies, such as the Law Society.
Within the last six months, 100 per cent of the department's executive leadership group and 80 per cent of managers have undertaken online White Ribbon and domestic violence awareness training. I have requested that the Crown Solicitor's office and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions implement recommendation 4 relating to internal continuing professional development (CPD) programs.
I also advise the house that funding arrangements entered into with the community legal centres under the National Legal Assistance Partnership 2020-25 include respectful behaviour clauses that confirm the department's zero tolerance towards men's violence against women in the workplace and the broader community.
In respect of the courts, I have recently met with the Chief Justice to discuss the report and the courts' commitment to address the issue of bullying and sexual harassment in the legal profession, with the development of practical solutions such as compulsory CPD on harassment for this year onwards. A presentation I will shortly be attending, as I have indicated, will commence in July. I am also advised that the Courts Administration Authority is developing a range of broader measures to improve workplace behaviour and complaints processes within the courts.
I look forward to formally updating the house in due course regarding the government's response to Acting Commissioner Halliday's recommendations and I now table the Review of Harassment in the South Australian Legal Profession, dated April 2021.