House debates

Thursday, 2 September 2021


Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021; Second Reading

10:24 am

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Arts) Share this | Hansard source

I will be brief. The main speech from the executive of the opposition will be given by the member for Sydney shortly. I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: "whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1) notes that:

(a) it took the Coalition Government over 12 months to respond to the landmark Respect@Work Report;

(b) the bill before the House fails to deliver the legislative changes recommended by the landmark Respect@Work Report that the Prime Minister promised every Australian woman he would implement in full; and

(c) a Labor Government will fully implement all 55 recommendations of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's Respect@Work Report to help keep Australians safe from sexual harassment at work; and

(2) calls on the Government to fully implement the legislative changes recommended by the Respect@Work Report, including:

(a) amending the Fair Work Act to explicitly prohibit sexual harassment;

(b) introducing a positive duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment happening in the first place;

(c) making substantive equality between women and men one of the objects of the Sex Discrimination Act; and

(d) establishing cost protections for complainants, so they are not discouraged from taking legal action against perpetrators due to the possibility of having to pay massive court-ordered legal costs".

I want to make a few brief remarks. I'll speak in more detail when we get to the in-detail stage, where I will have a number of amendments to move, and at that point I will seek leave to move them together. We will be seeking a division if the government opposes those amendments. We won't seek a division on the second-reading amendment itself, but we will on the amendments in detail. There is an intention to make sure that we are well-through this debate and it has all been concluded before we reach question time today.

We shouldn't be in a situation where we are in a rush. We're in a situation where we're in a rush because the government received the Respect@Work report on 5 March last year and did nothing. It's a report about whether half the Australian population were receiving respect at work. From March last year, when the report was tabled by the then Attorney-General, the government did nothing. We then received a response on 8 April this year, more than a year after the report had been tabled. Labor's position has been simple: we want to see all 55 recommendations adopted. That's our position. The government spent that year deciding to not implement all 55 recommendations. Not all of those recommendations are legislative, but the ones that are will be subject to the amendments that are moved in detail later today. At that point, the question will be very clear. If you support implementing the Respect@Work report you will vote for those amendments then.

But people will not be able to evade the question in the way they evade questions in media conferences, because these amendments have a real impact. The National Foundation for Australian Women really said it all in their submission to the Senate inquiry:

The government has declined to act on Respect@Work recommendations 15, 17, 18, 19, 23, 25, 26, 28, 35 and 39, in some cases by ignoring them and in others by calling for further consideration at some unspecified future time.

Labor's amendments that will be moved later today deal with the express prohibition of sexual harassment and sex based harassment in the Fair Work Act; deal with a new complaints process in the Fair Work Act to be able to deal with sexual harassment and sex based harassment claims; and add a 'stop sex based harassment order' in the Fair Work Act which, it has been made clear, would give the Fair Work Commission that power. We will also move, yet again, for 10 days paid family and domestic violence leave—the government's refusal to agree to that I still find extraordinary. We will also deal with the narrow definition of work in association with a 'stop sexual harassment order'.

I won't go through all the different examples of the failings of the government with respect to the legislation that's in front of us, but just let me deal with one key failing, which is the positive duty on employers. Where there were recommendations that were making sure we could fire people more easily, they made sure they made those legislative changes. We will support them. But where there was a recommendation to put a positive duty on employers that was ignored by the government. If you don't put a positive duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment happening in the first place, what do you think will happen? What do you think the outcome will be? If you want to avoid that outcome, then put forward the positive duty on employers. I'll leave it to the member for Sydney to put forward the principal objections and principles from the opposition in her speech shortly. I simply say that the legislation in front of us will be supported. Labor clearly supports the implementation of all 55 recommendations. The government has between now and around one o'clock to decide whether they will do the same.


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