Bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace are "a problem" at Warrnambool council, this week's public meeting was told, and the city's leaders were urged to "step up" and address them.
One councillor questioned why the council's plan to address problems was being hidden, while calling for them to be more open and transparent.
Councillors unanimously voted through a gender equality statement - a new state government requirement - but it came with a call for action and not just words.
Deputy mayor Debbie Arnott said a survey auditing gender equality at the council showed work needed to be done.
"When I look at the gender equality action plan indicators, I can see that there is a problem of sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace," she said.
Cr Arnott said that no one should have to go to work with thoughts of fear of how they would be treated.
"Far too often we hear of the devastating effects this sort of behavior has on its victims. These behaviours need to be called out. I urge anyone witnessing or experiencing it to speak out," she said.
"I want to see this problem addressed. I want the leaders of this organisation to step up and embrace this gender equity statement. Let us be the leaders in this field.
"Actions speak louder than words."
Cr Vicki Jellie also called on the council to be leaders and take action. "I hope that senior management, especially within the Warrnambool City Council, acknowledge this very important piece of work," she said.
"I want staff that work here to feel that they can be heard and not be afraid to speak up no matter what it is about.
"It's so important that they feel comfortable and that we have to give the absolutely correct messaging and actions that sometimes has not been recognised, and has caused a previous negative workplace culture.
"That needs to change, this needs to change and it's very important to female and male equality of all regardless of gender."
Cr Ben Blain said the council had its issues, like any large organisation - especially on gender equity - but he questioned why it was not releasing its action plan.
"I do wonder how we can be a leader when we aren't showing the work that we are doing in our backyard and just putting out a statement instead. I find this really disappointing," Cr Blain said.
"Open and transparent is what I believe we should be, truly leading by showing not only our weaknesses but our strengths. That is a true sign of leadership."
Cr Blain said that without informing the community and businesses about what the council was doing, he questioned how it could truly lead Warrnambool to gender equity.
He said while he supported the statement and its message, he was concerned that without actions it could be just "lip service" to fill a legislative requirement.
"We are a public organisation and without a clear plan with constant reviews, measurable results, will we be actually able to achieve what is being put forward in this plan?" he said
Cr Blain labelled the plan created by the organisation as a "pipe dream" without a real plan or actions.
He said that he was told in December the plan would be released publicly, but that had now changed.
"If we want to create change, why hide it? We should be proud we're working towards having a safe and effective workforce culture, especially when it comes to gender equity," Cr Blain said.
"And it should be accepted as a basic right when you come to work that you feel safe and valued.
"Creating change and new culture starts with small steps, if council wants to lead a generational change, we need to show what we are doing?"
He said no one should be discriminated against for their gender, race or any other factor.
Cr Arnott also shone a light on key statistics in the 2016 Royal Commission into family violence and physical and sexual violence, numbers that Cr Angie Paspaliaris said were "frightening".
Cr Paspaliaris said she was pleased a workplace gender equity action committee, made up of staff members, had been working on delivering the plan.
"It's great for an organisation like Warrnambool City Council to step up, to acknowledge that there are issues and to try and work on improving them," she said.
Mayor Richard Ziegeler said the council needed to ensure the plan was adequately funded on an ongoing basis and ensure strategic oversight.
"We have to be able to acknowledge that our stated plan is actually what is happening in our backyard, as councillor Blain has so forcefully put," he said.
"No point paying lip service if we can't commit to the action."
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