My appointment, effective from 10 April this year, followed the completion of two important reviews undertaken in response to well-publicised incidents and concerns about sexual and other harassment and discrimination in the Parliamentary workplace and the legal profession.

As former Acting Commissioner Steph Halliday wrote in her report: “The fact that legal and political institutions are far from immune from unacceptable, unlawful behaviours is deeply disturbing”.

The reviews serve as sobering reminders that despite the existence of equal opportunity laws since 1984, and other reforms designed to make workplaces safer and fairer, many workplaces in our State are not free from sexual and other harassment, discrimination, and bullying.

Nevertheless, the legal profession’s response to the report has been focussed and impressive. Initiatives such as the Mandatory Continuing Professional Development webinar titled Sexual harassment – changing workplace culture conducted by the Law Society and the Legal Professional Conduct Commissioner, ongoing work by the Women Lawyers Association, the South Australian Bar Association, and its Women at the Bar sub-committee, the publication of various resources, (including by this office), outlining assistance and pathways for complainants, decisive action by the Judicial Conduct Commissioner, and the collaborative work undertaken by the Respectful Behaviours Working Group led by the Chief Justice, demonstrate a determination to ‘turn the ship around’.

Proposals by the Attorney-General to leverage the Government’s position as a frequent briefer of private legal practitioners to encourage members of the private profession to act on the recommendations are welcomed, as is making it a condition that externally engaged legal practitioners have complied with relevant recommendations.

A review in three years will assess whether the significant changes already made, as well as those in train, deliver safer, more respectful, and inclusive workplaces. Early signs are, however, encouraging.

Progress in respect of the Parliamentary review provides less cause for optimism. The review’s report was provided to the Presiding Officers of both Houses in February this year.

A Parliamentary Committee was established in mid-March to inquire into and report on recommendations, and to draft a code of conduct. Its first meeting occurred in June. I hope the committee will deliver a response with a plan of action before the end of the year. If it fails to do so, the motion passed by the current Parliament in respect of the review should be introduced when a new Parliament convenes next year.

While the two reviews continue to contribute to the work of this office, it is important to note that sexual and other harassment and discrimination are not the most common areas of complaints received. As has been the case for the last 12 years, in 2020-21 disability remains - by far - the single-most common ground for discrimination complaints, representing a quarter of all accepted complaints, predominately in the areas of provision of goods and services and employment.

Many people living with disability are discriminated against when going about their daily lives. The types of discrimination they face, and the frequency with which they encounter it is shameful. Changing attitudes and removing barriers must be a priority for governments now and in the future. It is a priority for me.

The Attorney-General’s Department commenced work on the establishment of a specialist legal assistance unit to support South Australians living with disability which will operate in the Legal Services Commission. It will offer tailored legal advice, and give people with disability the confidence that free, accessible legal advice is at hand. This is an important initiative.

People living with disability are significantly underrepresented in the workplace, and employers should be encouraged to open their minds and their workplaces. In collaboration with JFA Purple Orange and Business SA, work commenced on the first Practice Guideline to be issued by this office. The guideline, produced for South Australian employers to encourage and assist them to employ people with disability, and to better understand anti-discrimination laws, was released in August.

Businesses that are inclusive and create equal opportunities for people with disability benefit in many ways, and diverse and inclusive workforces improve productivity and brand reputation.

Administratively, I have made various changes to the office since my appointment, primarily focussed on ensuring it operates within its budget, but also streamlining functions, improving data collection, and making efficiencies with respect to receipt of, and movement of complaints prior to conciliations. Updating and improving various office processes and practices remain administrative priorities.

Other changes have been made and are referred to throughout this report. Seasoned readers of annual reports from this office will notice some differences this year, including the adoption of the government reporting template. My office receives significant support from the Attorney-General’s Department in areas such as finance, human resources, and corporate governance. Accordingly, and for the first time, annual data on those matters is not reproduced here, and can be found in the department’s annual report.