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Calling for Government Reform


Artwork by Ella Stewart

Prominent women in Australia, including Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins, have formed an alliance named ‘Safety. Respect. Equity.’ They’re calling for the implementation of national policies to protect women and children from violence, harassment, and discrimination.

This serves as a reaction to the Morrison government’s minimal response to the Respect@Work 2020 Inquiry Report, which involved comprehensive recommendations regarding the prevention and addressing of sexual harassment. The Report outlined 55 recommendations for government, businesses, and communities to consider to better protect women in the workplace. Consequently, the group intends to push the Morrison government to implement the report’s central recommendations.

The Morrison government’s response introduced the 'Roadmap for Respect: Preventing and Addressing Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces' (‘Roadmap for Respect’) in April last year. This involved legislative and regulatory reform including rights and obligations for employees and employers and improved access to consistent information by workers and employers. The government also introduced preventative measures involving the provision of education and training across many sectors, support for targeted research and evidence development on prevention strategies, as well as improving data collection and evidence gathering methods.

However, the Morrison government voted against legislative amendments which would impose a positive duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent workplace sexual harassment, and to confer the Australian Human Rights Commission new powers to investigate systemic unlawful discrimination. They also voted against the insertion of a provision for the express prohibition of sexual harassment in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), and the introduction of an efficient complaints process in the same Act.

Consequently, the ‘Safety. Respect. Equity.’ campaign is striving for the following implementations the government has yet to effectively address:

  1. 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave (as opposed to the current 5 days);

  2. Full implementation of the National Plan for First Nations Women and Girls;

  3. Effective employment programs for women with disability;

  4. Stronger and consistent child sexual assault laws;

  5. Legislation to address the gender pay gap;

  6. Free, accessible, and quality early childhood education and care;

  7. Expansion of paid parental leave; and

  8. Consent education in schools, universities, and workplaces.

On a local level, the ‘Power to Prevent Coalition’ presses that the Morrison government must act before the federal election (announced for 21 May 2022). The coalition joins over 60 groups and individuals across Australia, involving family violence support services, legal aid centres, academics, and unions. They highlighted eight legislative reforms that must be passed for safe and gender-equal workplaces. Like ‘Safety. Respect. Equity.’, they emphasised the Respect@Work recommendations that the government has yet to act on.

“This report sets out a clear pathway forward. We call on the government to implement the recommendations in full,” said the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Michele O'Neil, also a member of the coalition. In particular, she highlights the following recommendations:

  1. Clearer work health and safety rules to make sure that employers fulfil their duty to ensure safe, healthy and respectful workplaces for all;

  2. Better access to justice for workers through a quick, easy new complaint process in our workplace laws; and

  3. Stronger powers for the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, including the power to investigate industries and sectors which are rife with sexual harassment, such as retail and hospitality.

Furthermore, on the government’s failure to confer investigative powers to the Australian Human Rights Commission, Aimee Cooper, Victoria Legal Aid’s Equality Law Program Manager, commented that, “Human Rights Commissions play a key role in enforcing discrimination and sexual harassment laws and need stronger powers to investigate and sanction organisations and industries where employers are failing to prevent sexual harassment and gender inequality”.

Accordingly, the Federal Minister for Women, Marise Payne, stated in March this year, that the government had implemented or fully funded 42/55 recommendations and that "work is underway on all remaining recommendations". Whether the Roadmap is effective shall continue to be examined.


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