[email protected]

September 02, 2021

I rise to speak on the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021.

If the Prime Minister was true to his word, this speech would be applauding the Government for implementing the recommendations of the [email protected] report.

If the Prime Minister was true to his word, this Bill that we are currently debating, would include every one of the recommendations in the [email protected] report.

If the Prime Minister was true to his word, this Bill would be ‘creating a new culture of respectful behaviour in Australian workplaces’.

Sadly, the Prime Minister’s flashy announcement in April was all spin and no substance.

The Prime Minister’s response to the [email protected] report shows a complete lack of respect for the thousands who contributed to this ground-breaking report.

The Human Rights Commission received 460 submissions from government agencies, business groups, community bodies and from victims.  Sixty consultations were conducted across Australia, three roundtables were held and numerous meetings with key stakeholders.

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner in her foreword to the [email protected] report says she has been ‘devastated by the experiences of sexual harassment within workplaces’.  She also says ‘the current legal and regulatory system is simply no longer fit for purpose’.

The report made 55 recommendations to create a new model which is evidence-based, victim-focused and framed through a gender and intersectional lens’.

The Commissioner concludes by saying -

“There is an urgency for change. There is the momentum for reform.

“By adopting the multifaceted and whole-of-community response outlined in this report, Australia can reclaim its position as leaders in tackling sexual harassment and provide employers with the guidance they need, and victims the support and redress they deserve.”

Yet despite that ‘urgency for change’, the Morrison Government buried the report for more than a year.

It was the tsunami of women’s collective outrage, as scandal after scandal was revealed, that forced the Government to act – but not to deal with a serious problem for women and some men - but as a political problem that needed to be managed through marketing and spin.

This Bill is purely a face-saving mechanism for the Morrison Government, a government that has been defending allegation after allegation of harassment, abuse and assault within its own ranks.

It’s no wonder the Morrison Government is not taking the important and urgent recommendations of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins seriously when their own workplace response to sexual harassment and assault is to look the other way.

We know that in the past five years, one in three people experienced sexual harassment at work, including two in five women.  Workplace sexual harassment not only has devastating consequences for the victim, but it costs the Australian economy $3.5 billion a year.

It has to stop.  We know that the current legal and regulatory system is no longer fit for purpose.

The Morrison Government was given the roadmap for a model that will improve the coordination, consistency and clarity between the anti-discrimination, employment and work health and safety legislative schemes.

They have largely ignored it.

This Bill is nowhere near strong enough to deliver the legislative changes proposed by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

Labor moved amendments in the Senate which would have improved this Bill.

The Government voted against all amendments in the Senate, including amendments to -

  • introduce a positive duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment happening in the first place;
  • changing the Fair Work Act to explicitly prohibit sexual harassment;
  • making substantive equality between women and men one of the objects of the Sex Discrimination Act;
  • allowing unions or other organisations to bring legal action against perpetrators on behalf of complainants; and
  • establishing cost protections for complainants, so they aren’t discouraged from taking legal action against perpetrators due to the possibility of having to pay massive court-ordered legal costs.

In particular, the failure to introduce a positive duty on employers was the subject of many submissions to the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment who inquired into this Bill.

The Law Council of Australia argued -

“The Law Council considers that the lack of implementation of Recommendation 17 and positive duties is a missed opportunity to give effect to the stated intent of the Bill and to promote a focus among employers on actively preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, rather than relying upon individuals to bring forward complaints once the harm has been done.”

Workplace sexual harassment is prevalent and pervasive: it occurs in every industry, in every location and at every level, in Australian workplaces. Australians, across the country, are suffering the financial, social, emotional, physical and psychological harm associated with sexual harassment. This is particularly so for women.

A survey of SDA members in 2019 revealed that 44 per cent of members who had experienced workplace sexual harassment in the last five years reported a negative impact on their mental health or caused stress.  One in ten of those members reported the impacts were potentially life-threatening.

Every day that passes without all 55 recommendations of the [email protected] report being implemented allows the scourge of sexual and sex-based harassment to continue in Australian workplaces.

Sadly, Australian women just can’t trust this Prime Minister.

It took tens of thousands of Australian women taking to the streets in the March4Justice earlier this year before the Prime Minister would even respond to the [email protected] report.

And this ‘political fix’ is nowhere near worthy of the serious recommendations made by Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins.

In the eight years the Liberals have been in government, they have commissioned report after report, each one has resulted in credible recommendations which now collect dust on shelves in Parliament House.

We’ve heard the Prime Minister give announcement after announcement, promising that he will make the lives of Australian women better.  And it all comes to nothing.

I remember after the tragic death of Hannah Clarke last year, the Prime Minister promised to ‘do all we can to support those suffering from family violence’.  Fine words – but they are just words unless they are matched with strong leadership and action.

There are many recommendations the Prime Minister could implement today that would help victims of domestic violence.  He’s had eighteen months now since Hannah Clarke’s tragic death.

There’s no excuse.

I have a Private Member’s Bill implementing a change to the Family Law Act, that has been called for by stakeholders for many years, that would immediately help separating families where family violence is present.  He could bring it on today and make it law.

If the Prime Minister really cared about Australian women, he would implement recommendations that will make a difference.

But instead of leading and making Australia a safer place for women, the Prime Minister seemingly spends all his time managing his scandal-prone caucus.

There’s the former Attorney-General, stood down because he has been accused of an historical rape.

The one inquiry the Prime Minister does not want to commission.

There’s the Deputy Prime Minister, who voluntarily stood down from his leadership position in 2018 after a sexual harassment allegation, but who is now back as Deputy PM and appointed as a member of the Women’s Cabinet Taskforce – I kid you not!

The Member for Bowman was shrouded in controversy when he was accused of harassing two female constituents – and has now doubled down, sending a letter to his constituency saying the comments ‘amounted to nothing’.

And when an alleged rape occurred just metres from the Prime Minister’s office, he says he knew nothing about it until it was in the media.  The inquiry to determine which staff in the Prime Minister’s office knew about the alleged rape at the time, has once again been suspended.

This Bill implements some recommendations of the [email protected] report.  It does not implement all the recommendations.  This bill does not provide the substantive change needed to address systemic sexual and sex-based harassment in Australian workplaces.

Yesterday this Bill was debated in the Senate.

Senator Hanson who has been a politician since 1996, spoke against the whole Bill.  She does not support any of the recommendations of the [email protected] report.

During her speech Senator Hanson made some comments about Brittany Higgins, a former staffer who has made a formal complaint that she was raped in a Minister’s office at Parliament House.  There are proceedings currently on foot.

The comments made by Senator Hanson were cruel, they were unfounded, and they were not worthy of being made in Australia’s Parliament.

When we talk about ‘respect at work’ maybe Senator Hanson could show some respect in her workplace to those people she represents.  People who do not have a platform which comes with the benefit of Parliamentary Privilege like she does.

I am sorry Brittany Higgins had to hear those words of Senator Hanson yesterday.  I hope she knows that most people in this Parliament admire her bravery and resilience and wish her only well.

I am on the Joint Select Committee on Family Law with Senator Hanson.  We have so far handed down two interim reports which have made some good recommendations to make the family law system safer for families.

But at the commencement of the first public hearings for this committee, Senator Hanson was live-streaming proceedings to her political Facebook page where her followers were hurling abuse at female stakeholders giving evidence in real time.

Last weekend Senator Hanson spoke at a public rally where she made some comments about the committee.

Senator Hanson revealingly said that – and I quote - “Scott Morrison gave me the Inquiry”.

I wonder what the other part of that bargain was?

But Senator Hanson did not stop there in talking about the committee.  She said that all of the committee members, other than her of course, were ‘useless, absolutely useless’.

I am sure the members of the committee, including myself, will be outraged that a Senator is publicly denigrating the members of a committee she sits on.  The other members of that committee include – the Liberal Member for Menzies, the Labor Member for Cowan, Liberal Senator Chandler, the Liberal Member for Reid, Liberal Senator O’Sullivan, Labor Senator Polley, the Independent Member for Warringah, and the Liberal Member for Longman.

Senator Hanson votes with the Government about 95 per cent of the time on substantive pieces of legislation.

The Prime Minister has traded away the Deputy Chair position of an important committee, that could make serious recommendations to protect women and children, for votes in the Senate.

We know this Prime Minister has a problem with women.  He is good at the announcements, but we know he’s not serious about any issues that make life better for women.

If he was, he would be implementing all 55 recommendations of the [email protected] report.

Labor is serious about keeping Australian safe from sexual harassment at work.  We are seeking amendments to this Bill which will make workplaces safer.

I support the amendments moved by the Member for Watson.