Safe Schools founder Roz Ward weighs action against La Trobe

The Australian, June 7, 2016

Legal experts have questioned whether La Trobe University could be penalised through the courts for its two-day suspension of Safe Schools founder Roz Ward, as the outspoken academic returned to work yesterday.

Ms Ward defiantly vowed to keep “fighting back” to push the program through schools after she received cheers, high-fives and a guard of honour from National Tertiary Education Union supporters at her Melbourne campus.

Ms Ward — an NTEU delegate — had instructed Maurice Blackburn to launch a case in the Federal Court if La Trobe failed to withdraw her suspension, and is still considering whether to make a claim for adverse action.

Legal opinions are split on whether such a case would succeed, with University of Sydney law school dean Joellen Riley predicting Ms Ward would struggle to show she had suffered adverse action from the two-day suspension that occurred after the self-declared Marxist described the Australian flag as “racist” on Facebook and called for it to be replaced with “a red one”.

“If she was coming to me in my capacity as someone offering legal advice … I would talk her off her high horse and say ‘just live with it’ because I myself couldn’t see a happy result for her in pursuing the matter,” Professor Riley said.

“It would be difficult for her to establish that she has actually lost anything.”

Acting dean of Melbourne Law School John Howe said Ms Ward could still succeed as La Trobe had “no doubt” breached the Fair Work Act.

“There are penalties which could be sought against La Trobe to make a point,” said Professor Howe, a director of the Centre for Employment and Labour Relations Law. “They seem to have acted very quickly and without seeking full advice because both industrially and legally this was a pretty dumb move.”

The union is still considering whether to launch legal action against La Trobe, even though the university dropped its misconduct investigation into allegations she breached its code of conduct.

NTEU Victorian secretary Colin Long said the union saw good reason to continue the case, arguing that Ms Ward had suffered reputational damage, not economic loss.

Thanking her supporters yesterday, Ms Ward said the suspension was a reminder to keep “fighting back against these attacks”. “They will keep coming and we will need to keep standing up and I’m going to keep doing that and you’re all going to keep doing it with me,” she said.

While Safe Schools Coalition Victoria is government-funded, it is administered by La Trobe and is based heavily on the advocacy-driven research of its Australian Research Centre for Sex Health and Society.

“All of the evidence from the research centre right here has shown that young people need our support in schools, that homophobia and transphobia are very much alive in young people’s lives and we’re not going to stop doing that work,” Ms Ward said.

“I have a team of people … who will keep working with me to continue the project that we started.”


The Categories: Safe Schools Coalition