Thursday, 2 September 2021
Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021; Second Reading
I rise in support of the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021. This bill acts to strengthen and streamline the national legal frameworks that deal with sexual harassment. This bill is about ensuring safe and respectful relationships in the workforce. This bill builds on work commenced by my predecessor in the seat of Higgins, the Hon. Kelly O'Dwyer, who, as Minister for Women, commissioned the Respect@Work report in 2018. I would like to thank and acknowledge the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, and her team for the wonderful work they have undertaken and which forms a significant basis for the legislative reforms being debated today.
This bill is just one of the many steps on the road to equality for women, a road that seeks to ensure justice and equality for women not just in this place but in every workplace, not just for the women of today but for the women of tomorrow. It's a journey that we as women have been on since the dawn of time. It's a journey that has made great strides in some countries, like Australia, but it's been a journey with many roadblocks and frustrations. It's a journey peopled with champions from all political persuasions and backgrounds. But, sadly, this journey is lagging in other countries, as we've seen all too starkly in images relayed to us following events in Afghanistan in the last two weeks.
The bill debated here today forms part of a long-term strategy for preventing and addressing sexual harassment, outlined in A roadmap for respect: preventing and addressing sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. The bill makes important changes to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 and the Fair Work Act 2009 to ensure Australia's legal frameworks are effective in preventing and responding to sexual harassment. Let me be clear: this is one of the steps on a long and necessary journey of reform, reform that had already commenced but that has only now been hastened by the sad and disturbing event that occurred in this very building early in the year before last.
The changes made by the bill give effect to a number of different recommendations of the Respect@Work report. These include clarifying that the Sex Discrimination Act covers judges, members of parliament and ministerial staff. The bill also removes an existing exemption to ensure that state and territory public servants are covered by the Sex Discrimination Act. It also ensures all paid and unpaid workers, including volunteers and interns, are protected from sexual harassment under the act by expanding the coverage of protection from workplace sexual harassment under the Sex Discrimination Act to include the broader concepts of 'worker' and 'persons conducting a business or undertaking', as defined under the Work Health and Safety Act.
Madam Deputy Speaker, it is quite hard to hear myself talk, and this is quite an important issue; I would ask that members in the House could perhaps keep it down a bit.