Two in five women in Australia have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Let that sink in for a moment. With #FiredUp, Refinery29 Australia makes an ongoing commitment to spotlighting this serious and pervasive issue through survivor interviews, informative features and ongoing news coverage. The ultimate goal? To help dismantle workplace sexual harassment and assault in Australia.
The government’s Respect@Work bill passed the House on Thursday. Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said the reforms were “just one of the ways we are taking action to build a safe and respectful culture in Australian workplaces”.
The government may be patting itself on the back but the new laws implemented only six of the 55 recommendations made by the Australian Human Rights Commission in its Respect@Work report.
Sorry, PM, but you don’t deserve a gold star for only doing 10% of the job.
The truth is that while the new legislation does add some additional protections -- including making sexual harassment a valid reason for dismissal and expanding the anti-sexual harassment regime to MPs and their staff -- it falls woefully short of what the Respect@Work report, and indeed all Australian women, demand.
Critically, it ignores one of the report’s core recommendations: to shift the onus away from vulnerable workers and victims needing to take action against harassers, and onto employers to guarantee and maintain a safe workplace in the first place. Seems like a no-brainer, right?
Respect@Work bill just passed Senate, but it’s more hole than Swiss cheese. It implements just some of Jenkins’ 55 recs on sexual harassmt. Gov & PHON blocked Greens & ALP amendments to legislate the rest, incl a duty to provide a safe workplace. Morrison duds women again #auspol— Larissa Waters (@larissawaters) September 1, 2021
A Senate inquiry into the government’s legislation heard repeatedly from experts and people who have suffered harassment that the failure to adopt the positive duty undermined the government's response. The National Foundation of Australian Women described the selective implementation as a “neutering process”.
The Greens and Labor gave the government every opportunity to do the right thing. Together we moved an amendment that would have introduced this positive duty, but they rejected it, with willing help from their One Nation lackeys.
They also rejected amendments that would have enshrined gender equality as an objective of the Sexual Discrimination Act, introduced paid family and domestic violence leave, and removed costs barriers that act as a deterrent for victims to make complaints.
I have to say that watching Marise Payne, Michaelia Cash, Anne Ruston, Jane Hume and Amanda Stoker - members of the so-called “women’s safety taskforce”! - vote AGAINST amendments that would make women measurably safer at work was one of the more depressing spectacles I’ve witnessed in my decade in the Senate.
Consider what’s actually happened here. A world-first inquiry into workplace sexual harassment, informed by 60 consultations and 460 submissions from unions, women’s services, experts and victims, produced a landmark 1000-page report. It set out a clear, comprehensive and holistic set of actions to address workplace sexual harassment.
The then-Attorney General Christian Porter sat on the report for 14 months. After being shamed by women into finally responding the Prime Minister looked the Australian people in the eye and said he accepted all 55 recommendations. He called the report a “game-changer”.
And then he squibbed it.
Forty per cent of women, and more than one-third of all workers, have been sexually harassed at work. Sexual harassment has serious and enduring impacts on workers, bystanders, organisations and broader society.
Women are literally taking to the streets demanding urgent action to ensure their safety.
And this government has been found wanting.
But should it shock us that the Prime Minister and his government ignore what women are saying?
After all, this is a Prime Minister who still refuses to order an inquiry into an alleged rapist in his Cabinet.
The same Prime Minister whose government covered up the alleged rape of one of its own staff to avoid political embarrassment, obstructed from the outset an investigation into who knew what about Brittany Higgins’ allegations, and failed to even invite Ms Higgins to the summit on Women’s Safety.
The same Prime Minister who had to be reminded by his wife that sexual assault is a serious matter.
The same Prime Minister who hid in his office while thousands of March4Justice protesters rallied on the lawn outside Parliament House.
The same Prime Minister who responded to Australian of the Year and child sex abuse survivor Grace Tame’s powerful speech about her abuse with, “Well, gee, I bet it felt good to get that out.”
The same Prime Minister who presides over parliament’s toxic boys’ club, where women are ridiculed, belittled, talked over, ignored and mocked.
A review of the culture in parliamentary workplaces is underway, but the government’s lacklustre response to the Respect@Work recommendations has undermined confidence that the Prime Minister will take the findings seriously.
Today’s Women’s Safety Summit provides yet another forum for women to outline their experiences and demand the action that we all know is needed:
I’m sick of hearing myself say this, but the women of Australia have had enough of being treated like a political problem to be managed.
We need a Prime Minister who will listen. And act.
Senator Larissa Waters is the Senator of Queensland and Leader of the Australian Greens in the Senate.