Prime Minister Scott Morrison said today he will accept all 55 of the recommendations in Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ landmark report, Respect@Work, “in full, in part or in principle”.
While we’ll need to wait to see the required legislation as well as the Budget to be delivered next month to see how these recommendations will be funded, this announcement could be a serious game-changer on addressing workplace sexual harassment in Australia — depending on how far the Morrison Government takes these recommendations.
The PM’s announcement today comes as a surprise, after the report largely sat ignored for well over a year since it was first handed to then Attorney-General Christian Porter and Minister for Women Marise Payne.
As we’ve been repeatedly highlighting here on Women’s Agenda, the Morrison Government has — until today — been yet to respond in any meaningful way to the report.
The report was the result of a world-first, national inquiry examining the nature and prevalence of harassment across Australian workplaces, including 60 consultations and 460 submissions. It was revolutionary in its recommendations, offering a more solid regulatory framework and better support for survivors.
These recommendations will see some significant changes occurring in workplaces: notably that parliamentarians and judges will actually be covered by the Sexual Discrimination Act for the first time.
Also, the adoption of these recommendations will see sexual harassment included in the definition of serious misconduct across all workplaces — and therefore a valid reason for dismissal.
Meanwhile — and we’ll have to wait to see the funding on this — the report also recommended the introduction of “positive duties” that would place a legal responsibility on employers to take more pro-active steps on preventing sexual harassment from happening in the first place.
The recommendations particularly highlighted the need for greater support for victims, addressing the lack of “holistic” services currently available — it made specific mention of the hotline 1800RESPECT which is not able to support those experiencing sexual harassment.
The good majority of these recommendations would require significant Commonwealth funding if they are to be adopted. Allocating what’s required would require a vast improvement on the pathetic $2.1 million provided in the 2020 Budget to “help prevent sexual harassment in Australian workplaces”. The amount was set to establish a training package on identifying the drivers and impacts of sexual harassment, including a new online platform bringing together relevant materials for employers and workers in a single portal.
Morrison told reporters this morning that accepting the recommendations is an opportunity to change “the very narrative that will drive appropriate actions needed right across governments and across our society.”
“Everyone has a right to be safe at work. Sexual harassment must be prohibited in the work place.” He said adding that prevention must be the goal.
“We must stop it before it starts, to put it another way. This is a complicated area in our legal system. Our response is designed to make it less complicated.”
The Prime Minister also emphasised the link between violence against women, and respect towards women — although added the caveat that it’s not just disrespect towards women, but disrespect full stop.
“We have got to be careful in our society that we don’t allow the reservoir of respect to drain and I fear it is.”
And he again linked such disrespect back to social media.
“I genuinely fear that the reservoir of respect and the way we deal with each other and speak to each other is draining: I think social media has the most corrosive impact on that behaviour.”
In noting that all Australians need to take responsibility for sexual harassment, he also added another line that raised eyebrows: declaring such responsibility can’t be done “in a way that sets Australians against each other.”
He also denied the acceptance of all these recommendations has come as a result of issues raised within his own party over the last few months.
Attorney General Michaelia Cash also commented on adopting the recommendations, noting that these changes mean there will now be consequences for any members of Parliament themselves who are found to have breached the Sexual Discrimination Act.
“We’ll be subject to the same law as anybody else which means we’ll be subject to the same consequences. Somebody can bring a complaint against you to the Commission. That complaint can be looked at. If it is upheld, it will be upheld.”
At the time of receiving the report last year, both Senator Marise Payne and then Attorney General Christian Porter said they would be taking the time to “carefully consider the report”.
The time was up for a real response long ago. Thankfully, it has arrived today. Now for the details, and the funding.