Boss defends tourist attraction at centre of sex assault claims

The boss of a major Victorian tourist attraction at the centre of sex assault allegations — Ballarat’s Sovereign Hill — has denied there is a “misogynistic culture” at the popular goldfields museum.

Jeremy Johnson, CEO of the Sovereign Hill Museums Association, said 50 per cent of the staff at the attraction were female.

“Around 50 per cent of our management staff are female, our management team, our directors, two out of six are female. Five out of 12 of our board directors are female,” Mr Johnson said.

“We are very proud of our compliance with gender equity and diversity as an employer.”

Sovereign Hill has been hit with claims of sexual harassment and misconduct.

Victoria Police has confirmed it is investigating a number of allegations of sexual assault at the gold mining museum attraction Sovereign Hill in 2017.

A spokesperson said the investigation was ongoing and it would be inappropriate for Victoria Police to comment further.

Fairfax Media reported that a number of Sovereign Hill’s female staff members had complained about being manhandled and groped, and that a male staff member had exposed himself to them on numerous occasions.

Union says complaints have been ignored

The Victorian Director of Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), Mr Adam Portelli, said its members had raised issues with the workplace culture at Sovereign Hill over the past two years.

“Sovereign Hill has fallen well short of its duty of care to provide its workers and especially women, with a safe workplace,” Mr Portelli said.

“Rarely have these matters been resolved to the satisfaction of the members involved.

“Moreover, there’s been a disturbing pattern of complainants being targeted with disciplinary actions due to fairly minor infractions while at the same time the bigger complaints are left unresolved.”

The MEAA represents performers, support staff and retail workers at Sovereign Hill.

“From our perspective this is a business, an organisation, that our members want to be proud to be working for,” he said.

“But also they want to feel secure coming into work and at the moment we just don’t think that’s the case.”

CEO proud of compliance with gender equity, diversity

Mr Johnson said the male employee at the centre of the allegations had been placed on paid leave prior to police investigations beginning last November.

He remains on paid leave.

Mr Johnson said an initial complaint made in mid-2016 was dealt with internally, but subsequent formal complaints were later referred to an external investigator.

“The procedures we have allow for people to bring complaints forward and every case has to be treated on its own individual facts and has to be treated with procedural fairness and natural justice,” he said.

“Policies such as this are in a fast-moving political environment.

“Every organisation is reviewing what they do and there’s no question that if there are improvements or ways in which we can provide an even safer workplace, we will be reviewing and taking those actions accordingly.”

Mr Johnson said Sovereign Hill was cooperating with the police investigation.

Sovereign Hill markets itself as Australia’s “foremost outdoor museum”. It re-creates Ballarat’s first 10 years after the discovery of gold in the district in 1851.

Source: Boss defends tourist attraction at centre of sex assault claims

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