Government passes legislation to prevent and address sexual harassment in Australian workplaces
Minister for Industrial Relations
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash
Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General
Assistant Minister for Women
Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations
Senator for Queensland
Senator the Hon Amanda Stoker
Joint media release
The Morrison Government has taken important action to strengthen and simplify national laws to better protect Australians against sexual harassment in the workplace.
The Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021, which passed Parliament today, implements the Australian Government's response to a number of recommendations in the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's Respect@Work Report.
"This legislation is a critical step forward and will enhance protections against sexual harassment and other forms of sex discrimination in Australian workplaces," said the Attorney-General, Michaelia Cash.
"My first act as the Attorney-General was to release the Government's response to this report, today I am pleased to see this legislation passing through the Parliament."
On 8 April 2021, the Government released the ‘Roadmap for Respect: Preventing and Addressing Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces' (the Roadmap) in response to the Respect@Work Report. In the Roadmap for Respect, the government agreed, agreed in principle or in part to 46 recommendations, and work is underway to implement them. The remaining nine recommendations were noted for further consideration.
This legislation implements the Morrison Government's commitments in response to recommendations 16, 20, 21, 22, 29 and 30 of the Respect@Work Report by:
- creating a new object clause to make it clear that the Sex Discrimination Act aims to achieve, so far as practicable, equality of opportunity between men and women
- clarifying that harassing a person on the basis of sex is prohibited under the Sex Discrimination Act
- protecting more workers from sexual harassment, particularly vulnerable workers, by broadening the scope of people covered by the Sex Discrimination Act clarifying that members of parliament and judges (and their staff) are covered by the Sex Discrimination Act
- clarifying that a complaint of victimisation can be considered as either a civil or criminal matter
- extending the timeframe for which a complaint can be made to the Australian Human Rights Commission to reduce procedural barriers for complainants under the Sex Discrimination Act
- clarifying that the Fair Work Commission may make orders to stop sexual harassment in the workplace
- clarifying that sexual harassment can be a valid reason for dismissal under the Fair Work Act
The legislation also amends the Fair Work Act to enable an employee to take compassionate leave if they, or their spouse or de facto partner, has a miscarriage. This measure will reduce discrimination against pregnancy and overall enhance women's economic security.
The legislation is also complemented by amendments to the Fair Work Regulations which implement recommendation 31 of the Respect@Work Report.
"Every Australian is entitled to feel safe at work, so this legislation is just one of the ways we are taking action to build a safe and respectful culture in Australian workplaces," said the Attorney-General.
Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Assistant Minister for Women and Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations Senator Amanda Stoker said the legislation is a crucial step forward.
"Equality of opportunity is a fundamental Liberal value," said the Assistant Attorney-General.
"By implementing the Roadmap for Respect, the Morrison Government is delivering the safety at work that is essential to women's financial advancement and leadership."
The Government committed $2.1 million in the 2020-21 Budget to implement key recommendations, including establishing the Respect@Work Council, chaired by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins.
More than $64 million was committed in the 2021-22 Budget to support the implementation of the Roadmap, including for work on recommendations requiring joint action through intergovernmental meetings, for additional legal assistance for specialist lawyers with workplace and discrimination law expertise, and for working women's centres to continue the delivery of support for women on work related matters, including workplace sexual harassment.
"We are progressing a range of initiatives to provide greater safety and economic security for women across our society," said the Attorney-General. "However, our work continues and we remain committed to this goal."
If you need immediate assistance or support you can contact 1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732.