House debates

Thursday, 2 September 2021


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

12:10 pm

Photo of Nicolle FlintNicolle Flint (Boothby, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

It's an honour and a privilege to be able to speak on the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021 today, which the Morrison government has brought to the parliament based upon work that we instigated and initiated.

Everyone in this place agrees that we all have the right to feel safe at work, especially women. Sexual harassment is unacceptable in any context, particularly in the workplace. Our workplace laws must reflect these ideals to ensure all Australians are protected from workplace sexual harassment. That's why the Morrison government is acting quickly to strengthen the national antidiscrimination and industrial relations frameworks by simplifying and enhancing protections against sex based discrimination and harassment in the workplace. We began by funding the Australian Human Rights Commission to undertake the landmark National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces. The inquiry was the first of its kind in the world, and represented a landmark moment for Australia.

The federal government's response to the Respect@Work report, the Roadmap for Respect, released on 8 April 2021, sets out the government's long-term commitment to building safe and respectful workplaces. The end product of this national inquiry found that too many workplace cultures fall short. We must do, and are doing, what we can to ensure this changes. The Respect@Work report made 55 recommendations—directed at the Australian government, the states and territories, employers, industry groups and others—highlighting the important roles all groups have in supporting cultural change and creating safe workplaces. The Morrison government has either agreed to—in full, in part or in principle—or noted all 55 recommendations in the report.

I want to briefly pay tribute to the Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Amanda Stoker, for her incredibly hard work on a response to this report and for her wonderful, tireless advocacy for women. She has been a great friend to me and a wonderful supporter through the various trials and tribulations I have experienced. I would also like to acknowledge the efforts of the Attorney-General, Michaelia Cash, and of the former minister for women and member for Higgins, Kelly O'Dwyer, who commissioned Kate Jenkins to do the report in the first place. We miss the member for Higgins very much. She was a great champion for women, especially in the Liberal Party, and should be incredibly proud of everything she achieved for women during her time in parliament, including the legislation we see before us today. I also want to pay tribute to Kate Jenkins, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, who is an absolute champion for women. She's an incredibly thoughtful, kind and compassionate woman, and she's doing wonderful work for the government in other absolutely critical areas so we can make sure all women are safe in their workplaces in every way.

This bill will ensure that more workers—in particular, vulnerable workers—are protected and empowered to address unlawful conduct in their workplaces. These reforms are essential for advancing both women's safety and women's economic security. The Respect@Work bill does this by implementing legislative reforms committed to by this government in its Roadmap for Respect, including in response to recommendation 16, recommendations 20 to 22 and recommendations 29 to 30 of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's Respect@Work report. It implements the majority of the legislative recommendations in the Respect@Work report, focusing on the changes that can be implemented quickly and see the greatest improvements to the antidiscrimination and industrial relations frameworks. It's also important to stress that those legislative recommendations not included in the bill are still under active consideration by the government.

While this bill addresses many of the recommendations outlined in the Respect@Work report, more measures are already underway. Through our commitment to the Respect@Work report in the long term, the Morrison Liberal government has commenced actions to implement the Roadmap for Respect, including through establishing the Respect@Work Council; developing the Respect@Work website and a package of training and education resources; consulting with states and territories, including at the recent meeting of attorneys-general and at national cabinet, regarding their respective responses to the Respect@Work report; and preparing for the fifth national survey on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.

To implement our response to the Respect@Work report we are also providing more than $64.3 million over four years, as announced in the 2021-22 budget, building on the initial $2.1 million over three years provided in October 2020, to implement key recommendations of the report. Through this funding we will see $43.89 million committed over four years to additional legal assistance funding for specialist lawyers with workplace and discrimination law expertise, and $5.3 million committed to the Department of Social Services to be provided to Our Watch, Australia's national research organisation for women's safety, and to 1800RESPECT to build the evidence base and develop primary prevention initiatives to respond to sexual harassment.

But, of course, this is not all we have done on this very important issue. We commissioned the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces, as I've outlined, through the former Minister for Women and former member for Higgins, Kelly O'Dwyer; Kate Jenkins reported back to us and we have now responded, which is why we're seeing this legislation before us today. We have also this year commissioned the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces; that was commissioned in March, and the progress update was released in July. So there is a huge amount of progress occurring in that area as well to address the incredibly serious issues that we have seen spoken about and reported on this year. The Prime Minister also commissioned—and this was a bipartisan agreement and there was bipartisan support for this—the Review of the Parliamentary Workplace: Responding to Serious Incidents, in February. I know the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, and her wonderful team are doing fantastic work on this issue.

I have sat here and sat in my office this morning listening very closely to the contributions of those opposite, particularly the member for Watson, the member for Sydney and the Leader of the Opposition. I really cannot describe those contributions, and some of the content and the allegations made against our government and me and my colleagues, particularly the Prime Minister, as coming from a place that is not completely disingenuous. Each and every one of those individuals, quite frankly, sounded like a sanctimonious hypocrite. I, more than any person in this place, have put up with absolutely unacceptable behaviour thanks to GetUp, Labor and the unions, which those opposite still refuse to address. They still refuse to condemn GetUp and their tactics. They refuse to condemn the unions.

I'm really proud of the actions my government has taken, and the actions the Prime Minister and the Treasurer took, to publicly condemn the sexist and misogynistic behaviour I suffered during the 2019 election campaign. They supported and encouraged me to present to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, and I was absolutely thrilled to see one of its key recommendations pass this parliament recently, through the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Offences and Preventing Multiple Voting) Bill 2021. The provision in this bill, which I'm delighted to say will now offer proper protection to every single member of parliament, to our volunteers and to our staff, clarified what constitutes interference with political liberty. It noted that violence, obscene or discriminatory abuse, property damage, and harassment or stalking with relevance to an election are examples of what can be considered interference with political liberty, with penalties of imprisonment for three years or 100 penalty units or both. This is critical for the operation of our democracy and for the continued free and easy access that every single member of the Australian public deserves to have to their elected representatives.

I have just outlined how my government, how our government, how the Prime Minister, have shown leadership time and time again in addressing the incredibly serious issues that so many people in this place have unfortunately suffered. But I ask myself what on earth those opposite have done. I had to come in here and give a highly emotional speech outlining how deeply distressing my experience as a female member of parliament had been before the Leader of the Opposition would even go out there and not only apologise but say that if he was ever made aware of this sort of behaviour again then he would act.

I find it extraordinary that, back in March, Samantha Maiden reported the most horrifying, genuinely horrifying, allegations of sexual harassment and assault and generalised abuse and bullying of female Labor staff members. I have not heard a word from those opposite as to whether these women are safe, whether the perpetrators have been held to account and brought to account, yet they come in here today and start telling us that we have a problem. I'm going to read some of this into Hansard because it needs to be recorded, because I will not by lectured by those opposite, as I've said before, when I know that they have even more-serious problems than the ones that have already been revealed by the brave women who have come forward:

      This is female Labor staff members reporting the behaviour of current and former Labor MPs. The article continues:

        This is disgusting behaviour. 'What are you doing about this?' I say to those opposite. It goes on and on. It is horrifying. It is truly, truly horrifying, and it had better be being addressed, because I want to know whether these women are safe. We do not know whether these women are safe.

        That's why the sanctimonious, hypocritical lectures that I heard directed at us today from those opposite are precisely that. You cannot trust anything those opposite say on these issues, because they do not have their own house in order and they refuse to address the problems that they have. This is another example:

        • He is a married man who plied a young woman with drinks until she had no idea what was happening. He promised others at the gathering he would get her home safely but before putting her in the cab he had sex with her when she had no ability to consent.

        • The next day he texted to demand she take the morning after pill and blamed her for what happened saying she was so drunk that she came onto him. He threatened "tell no one".

        I could go on. I'm not going to go on, because these allegations are so deeply upsetting. As I said, I sincerely hope that these women are safe and that they are getting the help and support that they need. I believe that they now know through everything that's happened this year where to get that help, whether it is through contacting the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, contacting 1800RESPECT or contacting the Department of Finance and accessing the many, many supports that we have put in place since a range of terrifying facts and allegations have been made this year.

        I am really pleased to support this legislation because we all know, we should all know—those opposite certainly do know, whether they admit it or not—that everyone bears responsibility for improving the safety of women in the workplace, whether it's sexual harassment, violence against women or bullying. Whatever it might be, we all bear a responsibility to fix this behaviour.

        If we in this place—every single political party, Independents and everyone—can't get their own houses in order, can't get their own parties in order, then what hope do women out there in businesses around Australia have of things improving for them? We have to demonstrate, we on this side are demonstrating, the leadership that is desperately needed in this area. I am very proud to have worked with my senior colleagues—like the Prime Minister; the Attorney-General; and the Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Amanda Stoker; to see this legislation, and with the Assistant Minister for Electoral Matters, Ben Morton, to see the Electoral Act tightened up—so that every single person is safe in their workplace in every single way.


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