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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 03 Hansard (Tuesday, 30 March 2021) . . Page.. 630 ..


language is directed at you. The way he looks at you is intense. His attention is on you. He speaks only to you. And suddenly, instantly, you get that flood of a feeling of embarrassment, which, coincidently is the same physical, emotional response as when you feel threatened. This situation manifests itself in you being incredibly conscious of your own behaviour and you withdraw. You know he is watching. You make yourself small. You cannot think straight. That is just the beginning. And that is just a look and a feeling.

I want to dispel a myth about sexual harassment, that it is nice to have the attention from a superior or a colleague at work. It is not. From the moment it starts, as I have described, it is a deeply embarrassing, threatening situation. If the attention of the colleague was on you because you are a superstar at work, bring it on. Everyone likes to be recognised and acknowledged for their good work. Sexual harassment is attention that has nothing to do with your good work. It is an explicit articulation of a power imbalance that is sexual in nature. The second you first experience that feeling that I described, that feeling of embarrassment, dread, it is a massive problem.

Let us now go to the other part of the problem: making a formal complaint. In my case, I made a complaint with the support of my previous workplace, ANU, to the Vice-Chancellor of Auckland University of Technology, Derek McCormack. I naively believed that, once I had exposed the nightmare I had been living for two years, institutional professionalism, institutional self-preservation, and basic right versus wrong would kick in. It did not. The perpetrator, Dr Abbott, remained in his job, with no repercussions for his behaviour whatsoever, despite admitting what he had done. I was the one who was going to have to change my behaviour, and my career was the one that was going to be impacted.

As I discussed in my inaugural speech in December, I reached a point of desperation and I ended up going to the New Zealand media to tell my story. The media attention resulted in Dr Abbott losing his job. The backlash on AUT was so significant that it resulted in the university commissioning one of New Zealand’s leading female QCs to conduct an independent inquiry into sexual harassment at the university. The report was finally released a couple of weeks ago. The report found that Vice-Chancellor Derek McCormack was aware of Dr Abbott’s longstanding health issue, alcoholism, and well aware of other complaints of sexual harassment and poor behaviour before mine. The QC, Kate Davenport, reported on my story, stating:

A feature was also the need to protect Dr Abbott’s reputation and not to start an investigation which in itself might damage his reputation. If AUT had viewed the complaint as one impacting on Dr Abbotts’s ability to carry out his role at AUT (i.e. one of sexual harassment/harassment and not a personal matter), I consider that it is likely that the investigation would have continued … No one can now say what conclusion AUT would have reached if they had widened their inquiry into Dr Abbott’s conduct … However, AUT did not do this and it is this failure that I am most critical of—the failure to take formal action. Even with the information known, the response by AUT was muted and Dr Abbott did not even receive a disciplinary warning.

The reason I share this is to highlight the inner workings of a complaint process that is entrenched in misogynistic workplace culture, at least at the very top, where mates


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