Respect@Work reforms coming as A-G outlines next steps

By Melissa Coade

July 8, 2022

Mark Dreyfus
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Mark Dreyfus has commended women who have come forward with stories about their experience of workplace sexual harassment, at a gathering in Sydney on Thursday.

“Your words are powerful, they are eloquent, they are courageous, and our government has heard you,” the A-G told a Respect@Work Council Forum, which was joined by virtual participants from around the country. 

“We now have the opportunity to take bold and decisive action to realise an Australia with a safer and harassment-free workplace.”

The new federal government has vowed to protect Australian women from sexual harassment and gender-based violence, with the A-G noting he expected the legal system to provide a framework that protects and cares for everyone. 

Labor will make amendments to the Fair Work Act to explicitly ban sexual harassment; enable unions and other organisations to bring legal action for sex discrimination on behalf of complainants; and to create new cost protections for complainants.

“These reforms will improve workplace protections for sexual harassment and improve access to justice for those who experience unlawful sex discrimination,” the A-G said. 

“The evidence is clear — a safe and harassment-free workplace is also a more productive workplace.”

Dreyfus said he would be working with minister for women Katy Gallagher and employment and workplace relations minister Tony Bourke to see the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s 2020 recommendations achieved. 

This included $24 million for nationwide working women’s centres to be run by the AHRC that establishes ‘one-stop’ disclosure venues that will support people who have experienced sexual harassment, as well as hear and document their historical disclosures in confidence. 

“Our systems should protect and support victim-survivors and ensure they can access the protections of our legal system. This government will fully implement the recommendations of the Respect@Work report,” Dreyfus said.

“Government funding will support the commission to identify practical strategies to strengthen the way we prevent and respond to sexual harassment at work, as well as support those who have experienced sexual harassment,” he added. 

Citing individual harms and an economy-wide cost of an estimated $3.5 billion each year, the A-G also acknowledged the 1 in 3 people at work who had been impacted by sexual harassment in the five years to 2018.

“This includes almost 2 in 5 women and just over 1 in 4 men,” Dreyfus said of the 2018 AHRC 4th national survey on sexual harassment

“The commission also found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with a disability and members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely on average to experience workplace sexual harassment.

“I, like all of you, am interested to see the outcomes from the 5th national survey,” he said. 

The AHRC will conduct its next national survey on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces in the coming months.

A suite of practical education and training materials will also be developed by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner to help people understand sexual harassment, its drivers and impacts, as well as individual and responsibilities.

“Sexual harassment is unacceptable, and it is by no means inevitable. It is preventable and our government will work to ensure it is addressed,” Dreyfus said.


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