Politicians and judges to be included in Sex Discrimination Act, federal government announces

| 08.04,21. 12:58 PM |

Politicians and judges to be included in Sex Discrimination Act, federal government announces

Politicians and judges to be included in Sex Discrimination Act  

The federal government will amend the Sex Discrimination Act to include politicians and judges, who have previously been exempt from the laws.

More than a year after receiving the Respect at Work report, the government has announced it will adopt the 55 recommendations either in full or in part.

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said a series of legislative changes would be introduced into Parliament this year, aimed at strengthening protections against sexual harassment in the workplace.

?What are the changes

Significant changes to the Fair Work Act and the Sex Discrimination Act include:

  • MPs, judges and state public servants to be liable for and protected from sexual harassment in their workplace
  • Sexual harassment to be included as grounds, or a valid reason, for dismissal
  • Defintion of "serious misconduct" in the Fair Work Act to include sexual harassment
  • A 'stop bullying order' to be available in the context of sexual harassment
  • Accepted complaints to the Human Rights Commission that occured less than 24 months ago cannot be terminated on the grounds of time

Sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins delivered the Respect at Work report in January 2020.

It found one in three people who had worked in the previous five years had been sexually harassed.

In announcing the government's response to the report, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said prevention must be the goal.

"Stop it before it starts," he said.

"This is a culture we have to change across our society."

Mr Morrison said the inclusion of politicians and judges in the Sex Discrimination Act was about getting everyone on a level playing field.

Senator Cash said sexual harassment was unacceptable in any context.

"We will be subject to the same law as anybody else, which means we'll be subject to the same consequences," Senator Cash said.

"Somebody can bring a complaint against you to the commission, if it's upheld it's upheld. if it's not, it's not."

?Why is this happening

While Mr Morrison on Thursday dubbed Ms Jenkins' Respect at Work report a "game changer", the government has faced weeks of pressure for not having responded to the report sooner.

Those criticisms grew louder as federal politics was engulfed in a cultural reckoning, largely triggered by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins's allegation that she was raped in a ministerial office in 2019.

The treatment of women within the legal community was also brought into the spotlight after the High Court revealed an independent investigation found six former associates were sexually harassed by former Justice Dyson Heydon.

When are the

?changes happening

Senator Cash said the series of legislative changes would be introduced into Parliament this year, with Mr Morrison adding his goal was to do it by the end of June.

Mr Morrison also said he would like to see Labor and other parties support the reforms.

"It has never previously, in my experience, been a matter of partisan debate and I would hope that is the path we can get back on," he said.

Independent MP Zali Steggall, a barrister before entering federal politics, said she was pleased the government had responded to the Respect at Work report but said it was long overdue.

She called on the government to adopt the recommendations "without delay".


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