Beware the lone voice of the silent majority

Workplace values are a reflection of community values. In a simple sense, most people at work watch or read some version of the news and form their opinions accordingly. Those opinions inform values, and for a lot of us, those values come with us to work.

Sometimes this brings out the best, uniting us in a collective sense of pride and identity. Remember the office conversation on the morning when the Australian Women’s Rugby Sevens team won the inaugural gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics?

Sometimes it has the opposite effect. And that’s when things become dangerous.  And for the LGBTIQ community, particularly, hard-fought reforms are firmly within the sights of Australia’s own alt-right politicians keen to capitalise on the rising global tide of populist policies. 

The rise of the alt-right

The recent political rise of Queensland National Party MP George Christensen, is something Australia’s LGBTIQ community cannot ignore. His extremist beliefs are toxic to Australian workplaces. Already an outspoken opponent of marriage equality and the Safe Schools program, Christensen’s announcement yesterday that he has resigned (effective this week) as the National Party’s whip due to - in his own words his - "constant outspokenness" opens the door for him to dial up the hate speech and rhetoric aimed at making Australia’s LGBTI community unsafe – in schools, in workplaces and the wider community.

Emboldened by his new-found freedom to speak his mind, Australia’s LGBTIQ community can expect to feel the sting of his homophobic mindset. It’s likely that rather than ignore him, the media will follow his every move and provide him with plenty of oxygen as long as he keeps giving them soundbites that sell papers and increase clicks.

Don't stay silent

So what can we do to protect notions of diversity and inclusion in what is shaping up to be an ultra-conservative, but hopefully short-term, future?

We have four clear options:

  1. As employees and employers, we can bury our head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening.

  2. In the workplace we can lead the conversation by reiterating workplace policies that are inclusive, fair and in place to make work a safe environment for everyone. It’s critical that we ensure our workplaces continue to acknowledge days on the calendar intended for community reflection – World AIDS Day, International Day Against Homophobia and Harmony Day.

  3. We must speak up – especially those of us working in industries and sectors more likely to embrace the conservative views of the day. By choosing to stay silent in the face of the subtle rollback of workplace rights, we are only hastening the demise of our freedom to be ourselves.

  4. Most importantly of all – continue to be ourselves. Nobody wants to be forced back into the closet and have the door slammed behind us.

The workplace will be a key battleground

The emboldening of those who share the extremist values of the alt-right politicians in pursuit of policies that are a reflection of their extremist views will motivate people to fight back. The workplace looks set to become a key battleground in the defence of human rights against populist policies designed to bring out the worst in people.

This weekend, from its beginning as a gay right's march in 1978 that ended in the participants’ arrests, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, now one of Australia’s biggest tourist drawcards will take place. It will bring hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets of Sydney to enjoy the parade as it travels down its Oxford Street route.

This year the Board of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras made the brave and honourable decision to formally un-invite the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull to the Parade as an official guest.  While that decision was ultimately overturned, the impact is hard to deny. We can only hope the Prime Minister, while pandering to Australia’s political players on the extreme side of politics, is not blind to the community values held by the people he represents in his own electorate.

It’s is up to our leaders, both political and corporate, to ensure diversity is accepted and not just “tolerated” and we cannot afford to stand in silence and bear witness to the erosion of our human rights in the workplace.

The battle is just getting started.

TOPIC: Social justice
RELATED LEGAL SERVICES: Employment law

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Alana Heffernan

Maurice Blackburn Sydney
Alana Heffernan is a Senior Associate in Maurice Blackburn's employment department in Sydney. She is listed by the prestigious Doyles Guide as a member of one of the top law firms for employee & trade union representation in NSW in 2017. Alana provides tailored advice and assistance in relation to a broad range of industrial and employment issues including dismissals, discrimination, disputes, issues related to professional registration, adverse action complaints, workplace investigations, disciplinary proceedings and contract issues. She has a comprehensive understanding of the employment and discrimination legal frameworks, and is experienced in appearing before the relevant courts and tribunals, as well as negotiating out-of-court settlements. “There is an inherent imbalance of power in the employment relationship and I enjoy assisting employees to access their rights, entitlements and fairness. I am able to provide creative solutions for issues faced by senior managers and executive clients, including with respect to statutory and common law rights. I have significant experience advocating for my clients, both directly with employers and their lawyers, as well as at relevant tribunals and courts,” says Alana. “I am creative and leave no stone unturned when it comes to finding practical solutions for my clients. From the outset, I work with my clients to develop a strategy for resolution and achieving the best outcome. “I am driven by helping clients achieve fair outcomes that protect their financial and reputational interests. I have worked across many industries and have a deep understanding of the tactics employers use against employees. These tactics vary greatly across industries and employers and I ensure my approach is tailored to the circumstances. I work hard to ensure my clients are in the best position possible to continue in their career, either with their current employer or with a future employer.” Alana has a particular interest in anti-discrimination law and has actively advocated for amendments to anti-discrimination law to include protections for victims of domestic violence. These proposed amendments have been supported and advocated for by various community and legal peak bodies, as well as the Australian Council of Human Rights Agencies. Some of Alana’s other significant achievements include: obtaining court orders preventing an employer from altering her client’s working conditions negotiating agreements that include reinstatement stopping employers from engaging in unlawful discrimination against clients negotiating settlements for clients that not only provide significant compensation, but also protect their professional reputation representing clients in a Royal Commission, and successfully appealing a decision of the Fair Work Commission in relation to allegations of unlawful industrial action. Alana regularly advocates for the rights and entitlements of the LGBTIQ community, and her diverse employment relations experience benefits from having worked for community organisations, unions and the (then) Department of Employment and Industrial Relations.  Memberships & accreditations Law Society of NSW member Industrial Relations Society of NSW member Awards Employment & Workplace Health Safety, Doyle's Guide 2016 Women's Law Association of Queensland Emergent Lawyer of the Year Finalist, 2015 Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 Workplace Relations, Employment & Safety winner, 2015  ...

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