21 February 2024

Infrastructure builds more training into graduate program because of 'hotties list'

| Chris Johnson
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Bridget McKenzie

Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie is not happy with Infrastructure Secretary Jim Betts. Photo: Bridget McKenzie Instagram.

The so-called ‘hotties list’ that was circling around the Department of Infrastructure Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts last year has spawned a new training regime for graduates, and it’s designed to instil in them a bit of respect for their colleagues.

A ‘hotties list’ of young female employees in the department was allegedly made by a group of young males employed in the 2023 graduate program.

The list is thought to have ranked women by their attractiveness and was circulated among males in the department’s graduate intake. But it eluded bosses at the time, who believed it existed but could not find it or nail the culprits behind it.

In October’s Senate Estimates, Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie raised the issue, saying such a list had no place in workplaces in this decade.

She revisited the topic in the most recent session of estimates hearings and was informed that additional training has been implemented for graduates.

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The department’s first assistant secretary and chief people officer, Rachel Houghton, told the hearing that Infrastructure’s training program had been expanded as a result of the list thought to have been circulated.

“The training program has been updated to reinforce the expected and respectful behaviours, as well as what we call accidental counsellor training,” Ms Houghton said.

“It includes training such as respectful workplace program training delivered by Diversity Australia during induction, WordsAtWork training delivered by the Diversity Council Australia, also in their induction program, a presentation from the agency security adviser at induction, cultural appreciation training, disability confident training, unconscious bias training, and development of a team charter of acceptable behaviours during induction.

“When they first arrive, we’ll provide them with quite an intensive amount of training really to help them understand what it’s like to work in government, our requirements and the expected behaviours.

“As they go through their program, they have both university-based training and then the additional modules we provide.”

However, that information was only extracted after a somewhat testy exchange between Senator McKenzie and department Secretary Jim Betts.

Senator McKenzie: Mr Betts, you’ll recall at last estimates, we had a bit of discussion about the so-called ‘hotties list’, and there was a commitment from both yourself and the Public Service Commissioner about implementing a series of training and education for graduate programs and interns. I’m interested to understand how successful that’s been and how it’s implemented and then we’ll go to this year’s graduate program.”

Mr Betts: I might ask our chief people officer, Rachel Houghton, to come to the table. I just want to emphasise that ‘hotties list’ is your phrase, not mine.

Senator McKenzie: I think that was your staff’s reference.

Mr Betts: I can’t believe any of the female graduates would have referred to it along those lines.

Senator McKenzie: I don’t think it’s the female graduates we were worried about.

Mr Betts: I don’t think it’s the female graduates you were talking to, either. We’ll be very happy to go through the actions.

Senator McKenzie: That’s quite offensive, Chair. Mr Betts has made an assertion about my intention. All of my public work and my public words have never been to denigrate women, particularly women who go through those types of experiences. I’ll put my public record against what you just claimed/insinuated against me. I ask you to withdraw it.

Mr Betts: I’m happy to withdraw it if you’re offended, but I would say that publicising and politicising ongoing complaints that are under inquiry and investigation by potential victims of sexual harassment does not necessarily support or favour those victims.

Senator McKenzie: Chair, he’s continuing.

And so it went.

READ ALSO Department boss given an education at Senate Estimates

What was also eventually discussed is that while a preliminary inquiry into the matter conducted by Clayton Utz last year identified some issues relating to “professional demeanour, improved complaint handling, the need to remind the graduate cohort of their obligations, and the need to work on culture and morale of the cohort going forward”, further complaints were subsequently raised and Clayton Utz was re-engaged.

It reported on 4 December 2023 that there was insufficient evidence to progress to a formal investigation of any breach of the code of conduct.

“Insufficient evidence?” asked Senator McKenzie.

“Correct. Yes,” replied Mr Betts.

All 36 graduates from last year remain employed in the department.

Original Article published by Chris Johnson on Riotact.

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