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4BC Breakfast with Neil Breen

Transcript

E&OE

Subjects: Respect@Work legislation, and the offer to pay for a Queensland quarantine facility.

NEIL BREEN: Earlier this year, the Federal Government released the Respect@Work Report, a comprehensive examination of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. The report was completed by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins and came out during a period of international reckoning over the treatment of women sparked by the #MeToo movement. The results were shocking. The report found workplace sex harassment cost the Australian economy $3.8 billion in 2018. It found one in three Australians who'd worked in the last five years were victims of sexual harassment in the workplace. One in three, that's a pretty heavy finding. The report made 55 recommendations for how to stamp out sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. Yesterday, the Federal Government introduced legislation into parliament to address and prevent it in Australian workplaces. Senator Amanda Stoker is the Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations, and Assistant Minister for Women. She joins me on the line. Good morning to you, Senator.

AMANDA STOKER: Good morning, Neil.

NEIL BREEN: Tell us about this legislation and how it can improve the situation, just in a regular workplace.

AMANDA STOKER: Well, as you've identified, the report that was produced by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner gave 55 recommendations for how we can make sure women are safe at work and safe as they participate in our community. And we know that that impacts everything, from their financial security, and right through to their capacity to step up into leadership roles as they grow in their careers. So these things are really important. What the bill does is that it implements every single one of the commitments that the Federal Government made in response to that report. So you'll remember not so long ago, there were Labor MPs and state governments of a Labor persuasion trying to pretend that we weren't serious about this. And I think it speaks volumes that not only did we agree in full, in part, or in principle, or note all of the recommendations of the report, but we have swiftly and absolutely delivered on the promises we made to make sure we're keeping women safe.

In contrast, of course – and people often miss this – the Respect@Work Report made many recommendations to state governments for action. And, of course, those Labor governments that were so eager to kick us around on this, haven't even responded to the report yet. So I think there's something to note there.

But what the bill does is that it- it's really very practical. It makes it clear that a person who wants to seek a stop bullying order can do it for sexual harassment – that's a mechanism that exists in the Fair Work Act, for instance. And that can be used to help deal with situations where a person wants to stay in a workplace, but end particular behaviours that are causing problems. It makes it clear for employers that sexual harassment is a grounds on which you can terminate somebody. And by doing that, we're trying to give employers the confidence to let someone go if they're creating a bad culture. Because at the moment they face the very real risk of being done for unfair dismissal, and that has the real impact of making people hesitant to deal with these problems when they arise.

We are investing enormously in the legal supports and in the research that's necessary to make sure we keep making progress on this front. And together, it will make a really big difference to women's confidence to deal with these problems when they arise, and employers’ confidence to create a good culture in which everybody – male or female – can be their best at work. And that's got great consequences for women's progress throughout the economy and into leadership roles. It's really quite exciting on that front.

NEILBREEN: I'm going to cut it down to the simplistic level. I think the biggest problem with sexual harassment in the workplace is that the female – and in most instances it is a female – who feels as though they've been sexually harassed is too scared to make a complaint because it'll weigh against them and it'll harm their future employment prospects. I don't think there's any legislation on the planet that can fix every workplace and that can stop that.

AMANDA STOKER: Look, it's a good point, because that's a cultural matter, right...

NEIL BREEN: [Interrupts] It is a cultural matter, and each workplace is different. And it's wrong. It's completely wrong. But I think that's the core of the issue.

AMANDA STOKER: I think you're right that the culture plays a really big part, but if we can...

NEIL BREEN: [Interrupts] Like if a boss is a bum, he's a bum. How can you legislate against some bloke about being a bum?

AMANDA STOKER: You can't, but what you can do is create a whole lot of positive cultural influences that do make a difference, so that in as many workplaces as possible, we are equipping women with the tools they need to have the confidence that they're not going to be prejudiced, and we are equipping workplaces to continually improve their culture as best as possible. We can't legislate for the human condition – you can't legislate people into being good people. But what we can do is try and shift the cultural environment in which those people are shaped. And hopefully that means better bosses as well as more confident people who find themselves in these unfortunate situations.

NEIL BREEN: Just on the letter overnight, the Prime Minister has written to the Queensland Premier and offered to pay for the facility near the airport, a quarantine facility. Obviously, the Federal Government would like to see this happen?

AMANDA STOKER: Well look, yeah we would. We don't want to see the issue of COVID being a political football. The fact of the matter is, there is the Damascus barracks in Pinkenba, it's got the potential to have a thousand beds that are outside of the hotel quarantine system, and it would be a proposal that would meet what the state government says is its need. We offer to pay for it. But, of course, it's important that the state government doesn't try and use this as an opportunity to wangle out of their responsibility. They have the very clear responsibility, agreed in the early days of COVID, for public health measures. Now, that means the numbers that can come in under the quarantine arrangements, it means the conditions in which they are required to quarantine and for how long in the like, and they have responsibility for the lockdown aspect of public health. It means that we are very happy to give them the money to do what they need to do – noting this is taxpayers' money and doesn't belong to any government. And that the condition has to be that state governments step up here and stop trying to pretend that the hard bits of dealing with COVID-19 can just be switched around to somebody else when the going gets tough.

NEIL BREEN: Exactly right. Exactly right. Senator Amanda Stoker, thanks so much for joining me on 4BC Breakfast.

AMANDA STOKER: Can I add one thing, Neil, before I let you go?

NEILBREEN: Yes.

AMANDA STOKER: The best bit about the legislation that introduced Respect@Work, is actually it was gone further than what was required by the report, and we've done something that I think is close to a lot of people's hearts. We have recognised the need for compassionate leave when people experience miscarriage. And for something that can be pretty heartbreaking for people who are going through it – it affects one in five in confirmed pregnancies in the first 20 weeks – this recognition of the loss that's experienced by family when this happens, and they don't have to put a brave face on it and go to work that day and pretend like nothing's wrong, I think is an important measure for people who are going through a tough time. And those couple of days, I think can make a really big difference in the experience of women and men who are going through this kind of a tough time.

NEIL BREEN: Yeah, I think you're right. Senator Stoker, thanks for joining me on 4BC Breakfast.

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