Greg Barber launches the Victorian Greens state election campaign in November 2014. (AAP: Julian Smith)
The Australian Greens party is facing more claims of sexism, with a former state leader accused of referring to women in the workplace as “fat, hairy lesbians”, “power pussies” and “hairy-legged feminists”.
- A former Victorian Greens leader reached an out of court settlement with a staffer last year
- The ex-adviser has broken her silence about the impact of an allegedly sexist office culture
- There are calls for sexism and bullying to be included in The Greens investigation into its complaints handling processes
Former Victorian Greens party leader, Greg Barber, is also accused of having a “men’s room” in his office — a meeting room that female staff members were not allowed to enter unless invited.
Earlier this year, it emerged Mr Barber had reached an out of court settlement with a former female staffer who alleged she had been subjected to sex discrimination and bullying in his office.
The ABC can now reveal that woman is former parliamentary adviser, Liz Ingham.
She decided to break her silence after watching an ABC 7.30 program on The Greens mishandling complaints it had received from women about sexual misconduct.
The settlement was reached in July 2017 after Ms Ingham threatened to commence proceedings in the Federal Court. Mr Barber, who is the brother-in-law of Federal Greens leader Richard Di Natale, quit politics two months later.
Mr Barber said his resignation had been planned for several years and had nothing to do with the complaint.
He told the ABC he could not talk about his former staffer’s claims.
“The reason I can’t talk about this, even to defend myself, is because I committed to confidentiality in the dispute,” he said.
“If that promise gets trashed, I think others will be much less likely to access these processes in the future.”
Ms Ingham said her experience caused work-related depression that went on for many years.
Greens leader’s office ‘an alternative universe’
“It was such an undermining experience, personally and professionally. It was like being in an alternative universe where I didn’t have rights,” Ms Ingham told the ABC.
“I kept my silence for years and I’ve been loyal to the party, but by keeping my silence I’ve been protecting them and helping them feel safe that they can continue this sort of behaviour towards other women.”
In the wake of the 7.30 story, which prompted an apology from Mr Di Natale, the Victorian Greens has commissioned an independent investigation into the handling of complaints about sexual assault and harassment.
However, Ms Ingham is concerned the terms of reference do not cover sexism and gender-based bullying.
“The Greens don’t care what happens to women within the party. What they care about is their public image,” she said.
“It’s only the media that can help crack through the shell of indifference that they have towards women in the party.”
‘Exciting’ job with Greens soured by Barber’s behaviour
In 2012, Ms Ingham was employed as a parliamentary adviser to Mr Barber, a Greens MLC in the Victorian parliament.
“I was ambitious and Greg was the leader of the party,” she said.
“I thought if I went to work in his office, then I’d have greater opportunity for advancement. That seemed pretty exciting at the time to be at the centre of things.”
But Ms Ingham said after two years in the job, her experience soured.
She has signed a separation agreement, which prevents her from discussing the details of her complaint.
But her husband and advocate, Trevor Coon is not subjected to the same legal restrictions.
“There was a community leader who was working closely with The Greens on policy and Greg Barber continually referred to her as a ‘power pussy’,” Mr Coon said.
“Things like calling an MP a ‘fat hairy lesbian’ and repeatedly — not wanting to use her name — but repeatedly calling her that.”
“He wouldn’t use the word feminist. It was always hairy-legged feminist as in ‘you’re one of those hairy-legged feminists, aren’t you?'”
The ‘men’s room’
Mr Coon said his wife was blocked from going to parliament and from attending meetings.
“The front room was commonly called the men’s room,” he said.
“The men’s room. This is The Greens. Can you believe this? I’m not making this up.”
Mr Coon said when his wife confronted Mr Barber about his attitude towards women, she was isolated and bullied.
“She went through a period — a year —with Greg Barber not talking to her, isolating her.
“A year where in a small office where Greg Barber did not talk to her because she had challenged him.
“It was during this period that she was told she could not leave the office at lunch time. She had to eat her lunch at her desk.
“And if she didn’t have lunch she couldn’t go out and get it.
“There were days when she came home famished because she hadn’t had anything to eat all day except for something that she had had at the train station and on the way home.”
Mr Coon said when Ms Ingham approached senior women in the Victorian Greens about the culture in Mr Barber’s office: “One said, ‘if you put in a complaint, the bullying will come down on you fourfold and there’s nothing we can do about it’.”
After sending an email to Victorian Greens officials and MPs about the allegations of sexism in Mr Barber’s office, Mr Coon was investigated by The Greens Disputes Panel and found to be in breach of a membership code of conduct.
He was then banned from discussing the allegations with Greens members.
“The Greens and myself would be the first people to call it out if it was the ALP,” Mr Coon said.
“If it was the Catholic Church we would be the first ones, and rightly so too — we’d be the first ones to call it out for what it is.
“But within The Greens we tolerate it, and it’s breathtaking hypocrisy and it can’t go on.”
Settlement paid out to Ms Ingham
Mr Coon said Ms Ingham complained to her supervisor, but he refused to action it. He said parliamentary services told her they could take her complaint but could not protect her from retaliation.
She then complained to the Human Rights Commission and later to the Federal Court, alleging sexual discrimination, bullying and victimisation.
In July last year, Victorian parliamentary services and Mr Barber reached a $56,000 settlement with Ms Ingham.
Mr Barber paid $9,000 out of his own pocket on the condition there would be no apology to Ms Ingham.
However, he agreed he and another male staff member would undertake “sex discrimination and unconscious bias” training as another condition of settlement.
Ms Ingham told the ABC that at the time, she felt she had no choice but to take the settlement.
“At the time, I was in no position to go to court emotionally and health-wise, so the lawyers were only instructed to negotiate a settlement,” she said.
“But if they want to put me on the stand and put me under oath and stick a microphone on me, they’re welcome to do so now.”
‘Her distress was significantly exacerbated’: psychologist
The ABC has seen a psychological report on Ms Ingham, which says she sought help in 2014 regarding “inequality in the workplace and exclusion by men in the office”.
“Her distress was significantly exacerbated by very poorly articulated human resource and management processes that were then not adhered to,” psychologist Nicole Milburn wrote in the report.
Dr Milburn wrote that in 2015, Ms Ingham told her the work situation had festered and become much worse.
“She felt excluded from things in the workplace that the men were involved with and that she had been given less meaningful work. She also reported that her manager had a pattern of not speaking to her for lengthy periods of time,” Dr Milburn wrote.
In a statement to the ABC, the Victorian Greens said it was inappropriate to comment on the allegations because the party was not involved in the dispute between Ms Ingham and Mr Barber, and was not informed about the case until after the matter was settled.
“These matters were the subject of confidential workplace processes,” Victorian co-convenor Rose Read said.
The current leader of the Victorian Greens Samantha Ratnam (centre) and Richard Di Natale (right). (AAP: Mal Fairclough)
Ms Read said the Victorian Greens strived to ensure all staff and members had a work environment free from bullying and abuse.
“The wellbeing of Greens’ employees is of the greatest importance to the party,” she said.
“The Victorian Greens and the national party have gone to great lengths over the past 18 months to comprehensively review and reform our policies around allegations of sexual misconduct to bring them in line with global best practice.”
The current Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam, who replaced Mr Barber when he resigned last year, said her party took “these matters very, very seriously”.
“We’re very disappointed when these matters are brought to light,” she said.
“It’s important to recognise that one of the reasons we’re talking about these issues across the world is that institutions and organisations haven’t done this well.”
Ms Ratnam is promising to make improvements to the party.
“We’ve undertaken a number of reviews that are ongoing and we want to improve the way we deal with these matters.”