Psychotherapy in Australia ceased production with the November 2014 issue.

Outcome of Federal Court action taken against PsychOz Publications and Liz Sheean by Gregory Lazarus and Clare-Louise Brumley

Dear Colleagues

Many of you are aware that PsychOz Publications has faced Federal Court action over the last year for breach of the sex discrimination on the basis of breast-feeding — Liz Sheean had asked a mother not to take her eleven month-old breast fed child into a two-day intensive adult learning environment. This matter is on the public record. We have been overwhelmed by, and deeply appreciative of, the enormous expressions of support and concern we have received, and we are aware that many people want to know the outcome. The outcome is also of interest to everyone who is concerned about the presence of babies and young children in adult learning environments. From what we have heard so far, training participants, to say nothing of the presenter, do not want babies or small children to be present, and find their presence disturbing and not conducive to an ideal learning environment. 

After fourteen months, the applicants did not follow through on their action and submitted a Notice of Discontinuance in late January 2015. The matter was resolved on February 19th 2015 with orders made by Judge Whelan that the applicants pay $2000 of the almost $20,000 incurred in legal costs by PsychOz Publications. Judge Whelan advised that in other court jurisdictions an award for costs would be likely, but the Federal Court is reluctant to award costs against applicants in Human Rights matters as they do not want to discourage people from taking action. However, she stated that in this instance she believed the applicants should contribute to our costs and made an order that they pay the small sum of $2000. At this stage, two months later, the applicants have made no effort to respect, or to comply with, the orders.

In December 2013, the Editor of Psychotherapy in Australia, Liz Sheean, was informed by the Human Rights Commission that the mother had made a complaint against her of discrimination on the basis of breast-feeding. Liz Sheean had asked the mother to consider 92 other training participants and to not take her eleven-month old breastfed child into a two-day adult training event held in November 2013. The child’s father was available to care for the child outside the training event for the entire two days and no efforts were made to communicate any needs prior to the training. On numerous occasions we have accommodated breastfeeding mothers, but all have communicated prior to the training and none have ever expected they could take the child into the training room. The mother was encouraged to express milk in the back of the training room, and was set up on a couch just outside the training room where she had a clear view of the presenter who was no more than five metres away. Following the significant emotional impact of this complaint, Liz and Trevor Sheean made the decision to no longer offer training events to the profession. The stressors were too great and the rewards did not add up.

In early February 2014, the applicants wrote to or phoned all senior members of the Editorial Advisory Board for the journal Psychotherapy in Australia, stating that Liz Sheean was ‘acting unlawfully’ and had breached the sex discrimination act on the basis of breast-feeding, and that they were intending to take formal action on this basis in the Federal Court. Apart from the defamatory nature of this communication, the matter of whether or not breast-feeding mothers should be allowed to take their children into adult learning environments has never been determined through Federal Law processes. All legal opinion so far states that such a case would be unlikely to succeed. Imagine the havoc in adult learning environments if participants were able to bring babies or young children - not good for the fellow participants and definitely not good for the child. Following this further ‘attack’, Liz and Trevor Sheean made the difficult decision to cease publication of the journal with the November 2014 edition. Again, the stressors were too great and the rewards too little.

In April 2014, the applicants initiated their formal Federal Court action against PsychOz Publications and Liz Sheean for breach of the sex discrimination act on the basis of breast-feeding. A formal mediation in July 2014 failed (and affirmed our original decision that to participate in a Human Rights Commission voluntary ‘conciliation’ would be a pointless exercise). A formal hearing was set for February 18th 2015. The applicants made an offer in late 2014 to drop the matter without paying any costs. They had represented themselves and had incurred minor costs. At this stage, after so much stress and expense, we found this offer completely unacceptable. A counter offer was made to agree the matter be dropped if they paid half of our almost $20,000 in legal costs. They declined on the basis they could not afford any costs (nor could we), despite signing an understanding when lodging the application that they could be liable for costs if the outcome did not go their way. Again, we experienced the applicants as having a view that they were the only individuals with any ‘rights’ in this situation.

Few people in our field would question the right of a mother to breastfeed in public. The ‘right’ to take a young child into a two-day intensive adult learning environment is a completely separate matter. We are aware that many adult-learning providers, both private and professional associations, have had a strong interest in the outcome of this matter. In some ways, it is a shame it was not heard formally as there is no precedent.

This has been a difficult, prolonged, exhausting and traumatic situation. It has been especially difficult as Liz Sheean was a breast feeding mother herself (and breast fed both children until they were well over two years of age). We are glad it has almost come to an end, and we are glad we have removed ourselves from the possibility of similar future experiences. There were no winners.  


These days the issue of ‘rights’ has become so trivialised, with self-entitlement and self-righteousness dominating the scene. It seems so hard for people to think about the collective good. There is much we still have to say about the concerning role of the Human Rights Commission in this matter. We experienced them as confronting, and far from 'objective' or 'conciliatory'.  


We are now enjoying the opportunity to focus on and ‘clean up’ The Human Condition Bookstore, which continues to send out many books all over Australia everyday. We are also in the process of working on how to make the Psychotherapy in Australia article archives available once again and will notify you soon with these outcomes.

 

Published since November 1994, and with a readership of 6000, the journal:

  • promotes scholarly discussion and debate of psychotherapy practice, research and education, and contributes to the development of informed practice and policy;
  • values a diversity of approaches to psychotherapy and counselling and related issues;
  • provides an independent forum across the professions in the field;
  • keeps practitioners informed of critical issues that affect clinical work.


Published quarterly for an audience of practitioners, academics and students, the journal has an Editorial Advisory Group of senior academics and practitioners. The Peer Review Editor is Professor Robert King, School of Psychology and Counselling, Faculty of Health, Queensland University of Technology.