In a joint statement issued through the Office of the Human Rights Proceedings, New Zealand’s Auckland University of Technology (AUT) has unreservedly apologised to Australian Labor MP Dr Marisa Paterson for the handling of her complaint of sexual harassment.
“We recognise that our investigation into your complaint was not adequate and our communication with you throughout the process failed to recognise and reflect the very sensitive and serious nature of the issues and the impact on you.”
The University added:
“AUT considers that the actions it has taken, including its apology to Dr Paterson, reflect the positive shift in institutional culture, and a survivor-centred approach.”
Dr Marisa Paterson was director of Australian National University’s (ANU) Centre for Gambling Research in 2020 when she publicly accused a high-profile academic of stalking and harassing her. In November 2021, she first laid a complaint with the Human Rights Commission but it was not resolved.
In an interview with the ABC, Dr Paterson said she had made her complaint public after being supported by by ANU to do so.
“I believe my experience will contribute to AUT, and hopefully other NZ workplaces, being safer worker environments — and that does give me some peace.”
Following her complaint, an independent review was undertaken by Queen’s Counsel Kate Davenport, whose report and recommendations were accepted by AUT.
Dr Paterson said she made the complaint because she wanted the harmful behaviour to stop and for the situation to be investigated. She added:
“My desperation in lodging a formal complaint was extreme – my career was everything to me and I knew that making a complaint would have significant implications. The independent report that was commissioned by AUT and this apology, are public recognition that I did not experience the appropriate or adequate response to the harm I experienced.”
She further observed:
“I have suffered long-term distress and implications from what I experienced and what I had to do to seek justice and resolution. But today, what I went through is being publicly recognised. And my voice today is being heard, most importantly by AUT. It is accounted for and it is being recognised as an equal through this joint statement. My statement today is not one of forgiveness. This is a public step in leadership.”
AUT’s Chancellor Rob Campbell said the university has offered its unreserved apology to Dr Paterson for its poor investigation into her complaint and lack of communication through the process. He added:
“We would also like to recognise your courage in coming forward, and to thank you for providing the opportunity for AUT to learn from this and initiate a process of culture change which we are confident will improve the experience of people learning and working in the university.”
In 2020, as a Member of the ACT Legislative Assembly Dr Paterson used her first speech to say that she had been a victim of sexual harassment while working at AUT.
AUT is now working to respond the 36 recommendations in the independent review, including the development of a stand-alone sexual harassment policy, a new three-tier complaints process, and training for all managers.
The Office of the Human Rights Proceedings told the media that the apology and joint statement was a positive outcome for both sides.