SEXUAL harassment training will be mandatory for all Mornington Peninsula Shire councillors and staff.
While the training will take place online, existing face-to-face training will be reviewed to make sure it is tailored to workplace risk factors.
Staff will be able to make complaints anonymously and quarterly case studies of sexual harassment complaints will be made to ensure records and actions are appropriate and to identify any trends.
There will be an increase in the availability and specialised training for managers.
The plan adopted unanimously at council’s Tuesday 27 July meeting aims to prevent, and respond to, sexual harassment within local government.
The plan – basically updating one adopted by the shire in March 2018 – followed an audit by the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) which examined whether municipal councils provided workplaces that are free from sexual harassment. The audit was tabled in Parliament in December 2020.
The VAGO audit looked at the prevalence and nature of sexual harassment in councils, their policies, training and communication, and the effectiveness of complaint handling.
Five councils were audited, and a local government-wide survey was conducted with responses from council employees and councillors from across 75 municipalities. The shire was not audited but participated in the survey.
People and culture manager Kelly Gillies said the VAGO report made 11 recommendations for all Victorian councils in the areas of understanding the prevalence of sexual harassment, prevention of and response to sexual harassment and councillors.
She said the shire’s action plan responded to these findings and had been endorsed by the executive team.
The plan calls for the collection of information on the prevalence and nature of sexual harassment in recognition that the onus should be on the organisation to change workplace culture rather than the complainant.
The action plan commits council to preventing and eliminating sexual harassment, sex discrimination and victimisation in its policies, strategies and decisions.
“It is up to us to lead and set the tone,” Cr Kerri McCafferty said. “This [plan] won’t eliminate sexual harassment, but it will help set up pro-active measures.
“People shouldn’t have to bear the burden. In the VAGO Report we see discrepancies between the numbers of people who have experienced it and those who report it [because] of fear they won’t be believed; for fear of losing their job, or because the process is worse than the event.
“We should be implementing an anonymous complaints program [and] doing our best to eliminate it entirely.”
Cr Anthony Marsh said the VAGO survey showed that councillors were “grossly over-represented” in the number of complaints.
“We must shine a light on ourselves and lead by example,” he said.
“Councillors only make up one per cent of the workforce but received 6.6 per cent of complaints.”
Cr Sarah Race said sexual harassment was a “form of gender based violence”.
“Women should feel safe at work,” she said. “The cost to women’s careers and mental health and to the economy is in the billions.
“By passing this motion tonight we are saying ‘enough’. We are telling victims we see you, we hear you and we believe you’.”