You’re a female lawyer, one of thousands across Australia. On Monday night you watched Four Corners reveal that Attorney-General Christian Porter — your ultimate boss — has a history of misogynistic behaviour and allegedly engaged in an extramarital affair with a staffer. How do you feel?
Several prominent female lawyers spoke to Crikey:
“As an equity lawyer of some 30 years’ standing, I am used to holding people to the standards that they have agreed to uphold, whether they be trustees, directors, or executors. An attorney-general should likewise conduct themselves in ways which demonstrate the values of the office, including adherence to standards of sexual conduct whether set by conduct rules or by refraining from taking advantage of significant power imbalances.
“As a woman of some 58 years’ standing, I am tired of having to point out the difference in treatment experienced by the women in such unbalanced relationships and the treatment of the (usually older, more powerful) men. Women, as I have said on a number of occasions, just want to be able to go to work, do their jobs, and be treated as human beings with a value beyond their appearance.
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“The Heydon and Porter allegations are very different but nonetheless they both demonstrate the power imbalances in workplaces where men vastly outnumber women and where leadership remains in the hands of men. This power imbalance is vastly magnified for younger women, and women of colour.
“So I feel disappointed.”
— JANE NEEDHAM SC, barrister
“The Four Corners episode raised a number of real concerns about the attorney-general’s capacity to carry out his role in a manner that continues to recognise the views and aspirations of female legal practitioners. We know from research that sexual harassment and sexual discrimination is still rampant in the profession.
“The attorney-general must have the unfettered ability to deal with this serious workplace issue which holds women back from reaching their full potential. Leadership from the top is critical in changing culture and the AG of all people must be seen to be above reproach in his own character, judgement and ethics.”
— LARISSA ANDELMAN, barrister
“Women should feel safe at work and at their workplaces, and should be treated with dignity and respect. That’s just a statement of principle, no matter where you work.
“I think people in positions of power have to be acutely conscious of that power, and what the effect of what might be otherwise innocent behaviour might have on a person of lesser status. And that’s something we’ve all got to be conscious of in workplaces. The bad old days of rowdy drinking parties without taking that into account are over, and that’s a good thing.”
— PAULINE WRIGHT, Law Council of Australia president
“Well, I’m not surprised. I’m not going to make a comment about Porter specifically, but Donald Trump, Dyson Heydon, Prince Andrew … Where do you think it stops?
“I think it is an exercise of power, it’s an abuse of power, and it is widespread, and largely not responded to well.
“The way in which the onus of raising sexual harassment is on the complainant is a significant deterrent to real action. Too often we find that women simply leave those workplaces. It’s a disaster because of the loss of human talent.”
— HELEN CAMPBELL, executive officer Women’s Legal Service NSW