Zali Steggall to introduce bill that makes sexual harassment illegal ‘in all circumstances’

By Shannon Jenkins

March 9, 2021

Zali Steggall calls for sexual harassment in the workplace to be made illegal
Independent Member for Warringah Zali Steggall. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Independent MP Zali Steggall has proposed that the Sex Discrimination Act be amended to ensure MPs and judges are held to account for workplace sexual harassment.

In a statement on Monday Steggall said she would introduce a private member’s bill to Parliament next week to make sexual harassment “illegal in all circumstances”.

Under the current Sex Discrimination Act, MPs, judges, and other statutory appointees are not clearly protected from, or liable for, sexual harassment in their workplace. Steggall noted that she has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and attorney-general Christian Porter urging the government to change this, but has not received a response.

“As no commitment has been forthcoming from the Morrison government, I will be introducing the private member’s bill Sex Discrimination Act Amendment (Prohibiting All Sexual Harassment) Bill on March 15 to implement recommended changes,” she said.

“This bill is an important first step to address sexual harassment in every workplace and will demonstrate the 46th Parliament’s commitment to safe and respectful workplaces.”

READ MORE: Why political staffers are vulnerable to sexual misconduct – and little is done to stop it

The landmark sexual harassment at work inquiry Respect@Work, released one year ago, had recommended that public servants be covered by the Sex Discrimination Act.

The Law Council of Australia called for similar amendments in December — including for sexual harassment to be made unlawful in all areas of public life — in its National Action Plan to Reduce Sexual Discrimination in the Legal Profession.

Steggall said the government has done little to implement the Respect@Work report’s recommendations.

“They have failed to act. Australians are shocked by current events in Parliament and want more than words, they want real action from the Morrison government,” she said.

The Respect@Work inquiry was led by sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins, who was last week appointed to lead an independent review into the way Parliament House treats and responds to allegations of sexual harassment and assault.

The probe into parliamentary workplace culture was announced just days after Porter identified himself as the minister at the centre of historical rape allegations, and weeks after former ministerial staffer Brittany Higgins alleged that she was sexually assaulted by a colleague at Parliament House in 2019.

Three other women have also come forward with complaints against Higgins’ alleged rapist.

READ MORE: Sex discrimination commissioner to probe parliamentary workplace culture, including sexual harassment


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