A domestic violence case manager and men’s counsellor who says he was forced to resign after being confronted by his employer for sharing an article by Bettina Arndt has lost an unfair dismissal claim.
Robert Tiller was employed by Relationships Australia Western Australia for eight years and was a member of a separate organisation, Men’s Focus Group, which met to discuss the challenges of working in social services.
Mr Tiller said as a men’s counsellor, he had been “privy to countless tragic stories (from men) of emotional and physical abuse from their partners, including parental alienation from their children, strategic violence restraining orders and what they’ve seen as the loss of their lives and livelihoods resulting from Family Court decisions”.
Members of the Men’s Focus Group debated and circulated research and articles, including a column by Ms Arndt published in The Australian in 2016.
After a member of the group sent documents shared by the men to RAWA, its executive director, Susan Visser, expressed concern that Mr Tiller was using his work email to circulate views inconsistent with the organisation’s philosophy. Ms Visser told the Fair Work Commission that Mr Tiller appeared to be endorsing the view that domestic violence was gender-neutral and did not arise from a gender power imbalance, a position contrary to RAWA’s philosophy.
RAWA chief executive Terri Reilly said the view that domestic violence was not gender-based was “not only wrong but dangerous”, and “at its highest these views propose that domestic violence is a conspiracy promoted by feminists”.
Ms Reilly and Ms Visser met for 90 minutes with Mr Tiller in March this year and Ms Reilly told him the emails were a problem.
Mr Tiller said she said that because he had shared Ms Arndt’s article from his work email, he was aligning RAWA with Ms Arndt’s conclusions on domestic violence. He said the article was sent in the context of the group’s ongoing discussions and was not meant as a political statement.
“Mr Tiller says at one point he observed Ms Reilly move to the edge of her seat. In a sharp tone, she said ‘Bettina Arndt is right-wing’ and challenged her credibility as a journalist,’’ commissioner Bruce Williams said in his decision.
“Mr Tiller says he replied that the article had been printed in The Australian newspaper, to which Ms Reilly rolled her eyes.
“Mr Tiller said that Ms Arndt was a clinical psychologist and that her article had referenced a number of academic studies. He added that some of her findings matched his observations as a couples’ counsellor where the male partner can often experience different forms of abuse and violence from his female partner.
“Ms Reilly restated that RAWA’s domestic violence policy was clear that ‘violence is gendered’ and Ms Arndt’s article directly opposes RAWA’s position that violence is primarily experienced by women.”
Mr Tiller said Ms Reilly told him that in order to preserve his professional reputation, he would be allowed to resign instead of having a dismissal on his record.
Ms Reilly rejected his account, telling the commission that when she confronted him over the views in the emails, he replied “but it’s what I think” and they were mainstream. She denied saying Ms Arndt was right-wing. She said when she asked him “Where do we go from here”, he replied “I guess I will resign”.
Her version was essentially supported by Ms Visser.
While Mr Williams found all three witnesses to be credible, he accepted the evidence of Ms Reilly and Ms Visser that Mr Tiller volunteered that he would resign.
Mr Williams was highly critical of how the meeting was handled, however.