Government vows to reform sexual harassment and assault laws
The Federal Government says it will work to reform laws and regulations around sexual assault in response to a report on workplace harassment.
Under the proposed changes, sexual harassment will be grounds for dismissal from a workplace, while the scope of the Sex Discrimination Act will be extended to include judges and MPs.
The Human Rights Act will also be amended to allow victims two years to come forward, instead of the current six months.
The government is also looking to add sexual harassment in the definition of serious misconduct to the Fair Work Act.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney General Michaelia Cash outlined the changes as part of 55 recommendations the government is endorsing either in part or full from its Respect@Work report.
The report was released last January and the government adopted nine of its recommendations at the time.
However, today it responded to the report for a second time.
It comes after the first meeting of the new women’s cabinet taskforce, which was established in the wake of several sexual harassment and rape allegations which have rocked Australian politics for months.
Speaking to reporters, Mr Morrison referenced statistics from the Australian Human Rights Commission, which said 39 per cent of women and 26 per cent of men have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
“The events around this building over the course of the past few months have only further highlighted and reinforced the seriousness of these issues, the challenge that we face and the great frustration that is felt by Australians and, in particular, women all over the country,” Mr Morrison said.
“Sexual harassment is unacceptable.
“It’s not only immoral and despicable and even criminal, but particularly in the context of the respect at work report, it denies Australians, especially women, not just their personal security but their economic security by not being safe at work.”
Shine Lawyers head of employment law Samantha Mangwana said enacting the recommendations of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner “is the simplest first step for the government to demonstrate its commitment to making workplaces safer for everyone”.
“One important change will be to extend the time for victims of sexual harassment to come forward,” Ms Mangwana said.
“Previously, it was possible for the Human Rights Commission to terminate complaints if these were not brought within just six months.
“This short time period was entirely unrealistic and yet another hurdle that simply failed to recognise the complex challenges for many victims to overcome before contemplating legal action.
“They will soon have a 24-month window instead, which more meaningfully reflects the time necessary for many victims to do come forward. It is hoped this may therefore encourage more victims to take action.
“Importantly, politicians and judges will no longer be exempt from the Sex Discrimination Act, closing an important loophole that for too long had the effect of allowing some of the most powerful people in the country to be above the law.
“The shocking allegations engulfing Canberra in recent months, and the High Court’s findings of sexual harassment against former Justice Dyson Heydon, have highlighted the urgency of ensuring there is a straightforward route for victims to seek justice.”