Tuesday, 31 August 2021
Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021; Second Reading
There is scarcely an institution in Australia that has not been touched by an allegation of sexual harassment over the past few years—the Defence Force, the High Court, hospital operating theatres, theatre productions, big banks, big miners and, of course, here in the Parliament of Australia. The fact that these stories are being openly reported and publicly discussed may be new, but the stories themselves are old. They are wearyingly old for the generations of women who have had to live them. Sexual harassment has been a standing feature of women's working lives. That is one of the inescapable conclusions of the landmark Respect@Work report produced by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.
The report itself is a sobering document. I have read it, and it is difficult to imagine making your way through it and not feeling compelled to act urgently to address sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, yet, staggeringly, that is precisely what the Morrison government did. The Morrison government ignored the Respect@Work report for over a year, leaving it to gather dust on the desk of former Attorney-General Mr Porter. During that year Mr Porter didn't even bother to meet with the Sex Discrimination Commissioner to discuss it.
It took until April this year to respond to the report. Mr Morrison made a flashy announcement that he would adopt every recommendation in the Respect@Work report, but the truth is a lot more complex, because, if you read the fine print—and you always need to with this government—you see that the government agreed to all the recommendations except that for some that agreement was in principle or in part or they just noted the recommendation with no intention to do anything about it. It was months after that when the government prepared the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021, which we are now considering. Even this legislation has been brought on for debate a week late. As I'll go on to explain, the bill ignores the most important and urgent legislative changes and it botches most of the recommendations that the government has grudgingly agreed to.
From start to finish this government's actions tell a pretty simple story: unless the Prime Minister is being asked questions about this issue at a press conference, sexual harassment is not a political priority for the Morrison government. That is simply not good enough, because, as the Respect@Work report makes clear, this is a serious problem that demands serious action.
The report is a confronting document. It found that workplace sexual harassment is prevalent and pervasive.
It occurs in every industry, in every location and at every level in Australian workplaces, and Australians across the country are suffering the financial, social, emotional, physical and psychological harm associated with sexual harassment. And of course this is particularly so for Australian women. This behaviour also represents a very real financial cost to the economy through lost productivity, staff turnover and other associated impacts, with workplace sexual harassment estimated to cost the Australian economy $3½ billion a year.
The inquiry found that 40 per cent of women and 25 per cent of men have been sexually harassed at work in the past five years. The inquiry also found that most people who experience sexual harassment never report it, because they fear the impact that reporting it will have on their reputation and their career prospects. The answer to this is legislative change. The report makes that clear. The Sex Discrimination Commissioner has said:
The current legal and regulatory system is simply no longer fit for purpose.
… the current system for addressing workplace sexual harassment in Australia is complex and confusing for victims and employers to understand and navigate. It also places a heavy burden on individuals to make a complaint.
Often there are consequences for employers only after sexual harassment has occurred and only if victims are brave enough to risk their careers by making a formal complaint. This can lead to employers discouraging victims from making complaints—instead of providing a safe working environment free from sexual harassment. The commissioner found that there is an 'urgency for change'. She said that a whole new approach to addressing sexual harassment in workplaces is needed. Well, this bill doesn't do that. This bill does not implement that urgent new approach. Instead, it nibbles around the edges of substantial reform, with most changes simply clarifying or confirming the way the law already operates. The Respect@Work report was clear: we cannot tackle sexual harassment without meaningful legislative reform. Unfortunately, the commissioner herself has described the government's response as a missed opportunity.
Labor recognises the opportunity before us to remedy these wrongs. Labor is committed to fully implementing all 55 recommendations of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's groundbreaking Respect@Work report to help keep Australians safe from sexual harassment at work. We will be moving a detailed series of amendments to remedy the worst of the government's oversights. If the government refuse to amend the shortcomings in their bill, then, under Anthony Albanese, a Labor government will work with the Workplace Sexual Harassment Council, employers, workers, unions and legal experts to finalise and implement stronger laws as a matter of priority.
As part of our commitment, Labor announced today that we will commit $24 million to ensure that there are properly funded Working Women's Centres in every Australian state and territory. I visited the surviving Working Women's Centres and met with the amazing and hardworking people who staff them. They provide free, confidential assistance and advice about workplace matters, including sexual harassment, wage theft and discrimination. You would think that, having received and committed to the Respect@Work report's recommendations, the Morrison government would want to keep these centres open. You'd be wrong. In May this year I was at the Alice Springs office of the Northern Territory Working Women's Centre, which was under threat because of budget cuts by this government. A Labor government would act to keep the centre's doors open and establish new centres across the country.
A second reading amendment in my name has been circulated, and I now move:
At the end of the motion, add ", but the Senate:
(i) it took tens of thousands of Australian women taking to the street in the March4Justice before the Government responded to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's groundbreaking Respect@Work Report, and even then the Government would not commit to implementing the 55 recommendations in full,
(ii) genuine action on sexual harassment in the workplace includes fully implementing all 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work Report to help keep Australians safe from sexual harassment at work,
(iii) this bill as drafted does not fully implement all legislative recommendations of the Respect@Work Report,
(iv) Australian women are looking at the Prime Minister's record and assuming this bill is just another political fix,
(v) the Sex Discrimination Commissioner herself has described the Federal Government's weak response to her report as a "missed opportunity", and
(vi) if the Government refuses to amend the shortcomings of this bill, an Albanese Labor Government will work with the Workplace Sexual Harassment Council, employers, workers, unions and legal experts to finalise and implement stronger laws as a matter of priority; and
(b) calls on the Government to support amendments to this bill to ensure it fully implements all 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work Report".
I will have more to say about Labor's other amendments in the committee stage, but I want to outline at this stage in the debate the key issues we are seeking to remedy.
At the heart of the new approach Kate Jenkins called for is recommendation 17, which calls for a positive duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace—not to fix it up later but to prevent it happening in the first place. This recommendation is designed to shift from the current reactive model that requires complaints from individuals—brought on an ad hoc basis by those with the courage and means to do so—to a proactive model that would require employers to take the initiative, to take responsibility, to create workplaces that are free from sexual harassment.
Despite claiming that it has taken action to implement the Respect@Work report, the government only notes this recommendation that is at the heart of the approach. And this bill does nothing to seek to implement it. Recommendation 18 of the Respect@Work report calls for the Sex Discrimination Commissioner to be given the function of assessing compliance with the new positive duty and for enforcement, and these powers are important to make the new positive duty real and enforceable.
Unfortunately, there are many other recommendations that remain unimplemented in this bill—for example, recommendation 19, which was to give the commission a broad function to inquire into systemic unlawful discrimination, including systemic sexual harassment; recommendation 25, which calls for the introduction of a cost protection provision in the AHRC Act, mirroring the cost protection regime that is already in place in section 570 of the Fair Work Act; recommendation 23, to amend the AHRC Act to allow unions and other representative groups to bring representative claims to court, consistent with the existing provisions in that act that allow unions and other representative groups to bring a representative complaint to the commission; and recommendation 28, that the Fair Work system be reviewed to ensure and clarify that sexual harassment—using the definition in the Sex Discrimination Act—is expressly prohibited. The government's response to recommendation 28 was only to agree in principle, and it's not actioned in this bill.
Unfortunately, the reality is that there is only so much that can be done to fix a bill once it has been introduced. Labor will be moving amendments to introduce a positive duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment from happening in the first place. We will seek to change the Fair Work Act to explicitly prohibit sexual harassment. We will seek to make substantive equality between women and men one of the objects of the Sex Discrimination Act. We will allow unions and other organisations to bring legal action against perpetrators on behalf of complainants, and we will seek to establish cost protections for complainants so they aren't discouraged from taking legal action against perpetrators due to the possibility of having to pay massive court ordered legal costs. I look forward to debating this during the committee stage. I look forward to hearing from the government why these matters are not considered a matter of urgency for them—why these matters haven't been included in this bill.
The Respect@Work inquiry was an important and landmark piece of work. It confirmed what Australian women already knew: the steady drumbeat of sexual harassment and assault cases reported in the media is simply the tip of the iceberg. The truth is that going public has been no guarantee of justice for women who have experienced completely unacceptable behaviour at work. It is also an option that is not available to the overwhelming majority of Australian women. Your boss or your workplace should not have to be high profile for you to receive justice and support. All women deserve a safe workplace.
This bill reveals that the Prime Minister didn't really mean it when he said that the government would implement all 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work report. That was a hollow commitment. Labor will do what we can in this debate to remedy the gaps, but an Albanese Labor government will work with the Workplace Sexual Harassment Council, employers, workers, unions and legal experts to finalise and implement stronger laws as a matter of priority.
[by video link] I rise to speak, finally, on this bill to protect women in all workplaces and to attempt to deliver, following the report of Commissioner Jenkins, a safe workplace for women. But it takes a government like the Morrison-Joyce government to be 17 months late to the party and then to leave out the key point of the Jenkins review into keeping workplaces safe. This government has managed to belatedly put forward a bill that misses the key recommendation that the Sex Discrimination Commissioner put forward, which is a positive duty on employers to provide a safe workplace for their workers—mainly women, who are the ones who are inevitably sexually harassed in so many workplaces. Here we are, with the Prime Minister once again really failing to grapple with and understand the predicament that so many women are in and once again treating women like a political problem to be managed, rather than actually listening to the advice, acting on it and providing a safe workplace for women.
It feels like an election's in the offing, because the government have taken 17 months to get to this point and now they're hastily rushing through a bill that doesn't actually address all of the recommendations of the Respect@Work report which was tabled in March last year, and they've provided no explanation for their failure to do that. But one look at the number of women in the government's ranks perhaps answers that question. This government has the opportunity to provide a safe workplace for workers across the country and, rather than do that and act on the advice of the Jenkins report, despite saying that it was going to, it's now put forward a bill that leaves that main point out. I'm genuinely baffled but perhaps not really surprised, if I'm honest, that, once again, the government has failed to deliver for women.
Well, we're sick of this. We are sick and tired of the government not understanding the predicament that women are in. From its botched response to the pandemic, which has been felt disproportionately by women, its belated and botched response now to women in all workplaces and its absolutely botched response to the issues of harassment in this very workplace of Parliament House, there's no other conclusion that can be drawn: this government just does not understand women and it actually doesn't really care that much about addressing the situation that we're in. That's the only conclusion that can be drawn.
The Respect@Work report was initially on the books of Minister Porter, where it went nowhere and gathered dust. We all know that Minister Porter has been accused of a historical rape, but he remains in cabinet, albeit with a different ministry. This bill is now under the auspices of a different minister, and we've finally seen a bill rolled out, but it leaves out the key point. There's nothing that typifies the Morrison government better than this bill: it's late and it misses the point.
I do want to talk about some of the features of this bill, the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021, which we will be supporting. There are some good bits in the bill that actually implement some of the recommendations of Commissioner Jenkins. But then I'll come to the amendments that the Greens will move to fix the bits that the government's forgotten about or deliberately left out because it doesn't want to offend people, perhaps. The bill includes sex based harassment as a separate offence, which is positive. It recognises that not all harassment based on gender is sexual in nature. Some of it's just misogyny. It finally makes politicians and judges subject to the Sex Discrimination Act. Why politicians and judges were exempt in the first place is just beyond me, and the past few years have highlighted just how absurd that absence has been. I hope that the inclusion of those roles will really herald a change in the culture of parliamentary offices—and judicial offices, for that matter. We want women to aspire to those roles and to know that they will be safe and respected in those workplaces.
The bill extends the time in which complaints of discrimination and harassment can be made. That's a positive thing. It recognises that it takes an awful lot of guts and courage to raise these issues and that often it takes some time for a worker to make the decision to progress a complaint. They should have the time to do that. Sadly, it often takes the worker having moved on from that workplace to have the ability to make the complaint, because, inevitably, it's women that suffer the consequences and harassers, who are so often men, are the ones that often get to keep their jobs. Sometimes they even get promoted, particularly if they're in the Liberal Party. But that's why the extension of time within which complaints are to be taken is so important.
This bill also allows workers who are sexually harassed to apply for a stop harassment order from the Fair Work Commission. That's very positive. We support that. It removes the exemption that state government employees currently have—also much needed. It's much needed in particular because this was the only facet that had been excluded. All of the other antidiscrimination elements were able to be pursued federally or at the state level. This was the last one. I want to, at this stage, acknowledge Jac Woodhouse, who's been in contact with my office over several years.
She's been a long-term advocate for making sure that state government employees can make a complaint under the Sex Discrimination Act, not just under state laws. Jac was driven by her own experience of being discriminated against and bullied from her job, and she fell between the cracks as a result of this exemption. I hope that she draws some comfort when this loophole is finally closed.
The bill extends protections against sexual harassment to all paid and unpaid workers, including volunteers, interns and the self-employed. That's positive. Also, it provides five days of compassionate leave to workers affected by miscarriage. This is outside the scope of the Respect@Work reforms, but it recognises that workers experiencing trauma should have access to paid leave. That's very welcome. The same rationale should be extended to survivors of family and domestic violence. The Greens have long campaigned for 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave to be available to workers. Indeed, amendments will be moved. The Greens have circulated amendments. I understand the Labor Party will also be circulating their amendments. This is a great opportunity to finally have paid family and domestic violence leave for workers, to keep that connection with the workplace and to provide survivors with the best chance of getting their life back in order after the epidemic of violence that so many workers face.
So, there are some positives in this bill, but, as I said, it leaves out the key point. The scope of the problem really warrants a better response. The Fourth national survey on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces found that 40 per cent of women—that's more than one-third of all workers—have been sexually harassed at work. That is a thoroughly unacceptable number—40 per cent of women, and that's more than a third of workers. So it's about bloody time we had this bill. I wish it were better, and I hope some of the amendments are passed to provide a safe workplace for women and all workers.
When we had the Senate inquiry into this bill, the Women's Legal Centre ACT and JobWatch said that calls to their services about sexual harassment had increased threefold over the past two years. This problem is not going away; it is only getting worse. We need a broad-scale cultural change in workplaces, and in society more broadly, to make sure that women are not being sexually harassed in their place of work. Sexual harassment has serious and enduring impacts on workers, and everyone—on the broader society. It can destroy workers' self-esteem, confidence, productivity, career progression, and overall health and wellbeing. It is the ultimate example of the gender inequality that persists and the grip that patriarchy has on our decision-making organisations.
It also costs an awful lot. The cost of sexual harassment is estimated at $3.5 billion each year in lost productivity and each case of harassment represents around four working days of lost output. Parliament needs to fix this problem, not just in our own workplace but in workplaces everywhere. The Respect@Work report really canvassed the scope of the problem and it set out a comprehensive, targeted set of reforms to tackle it. It was a holistic package of 55 recommendations to address discrimination and the structural inequalities to make workplaces safe. We need to implement the full suite of those recommendations if we are to achieve the goal of safe and respectful workplaces.
When the government finally issued its response to the Respect@Work report—13 months after the fact—I read the press release and it claimed that it would implement all of the recommendations; it accepted all of the recommendations. Well, the devil was in the detail, because, now that we've seen the bill, the government, in fact, has not accepted all of the recommendations. It is failing to act on the main recommendations that Commissioner Jenkins made, which went to a positive duty on employers to maintain a safe workplace. That was the centrepiece of the report, and this bill doesn't even tackle it. It took the Greens to initiate an amendment weeks ago, and the Labor Party's now doing the same. In fact, I believe we're collaborating and we'll be moving a joint amendment.
No-one should be blocking an obligation for employers to provide a safe workplace. I presume the government are going to vote against the amendment. Please, think before you do so. This should not be a political issue.
The right of workers to be safe at work and the right of women to not be sexually harassed at any time, let alone in their workplace, should not be something that you can vote against. We'll wait to see how the vote goes, but I'm more and more incredulous at the new lows this government seems to find every single day.
The vast majority of submissions to the Senate inquiry into this bill called for the implementation of the full suite of 55 recommendations. I don't know what more can be said about the need for it. Eliminating workplace sexual harassment will take a big cultural shift. It's long past time that we began that cultural shift. A positive duty to create and maintain a safe workplace is the best way to achieve that. The vast majority of submitters to the Senate inquiry emphasised that that positive duty was critical to achieve the broader objectives, and I really don't understand what the government are missing here in not seeing that the positive duty is in fact crucial. They contend that there's already a duty in the fair work laws, but it's clearly not working. If it were working, we wouldn't see one-third of workers being sexually harassed.
MCA agrees with the government and others that a positive duty already exists in workplace health and safety law … However, the positive duty that already exists works for traditional physical health and safety risks; it is clearly not working for sexual harassment. Therefore, given the significant issue, we support there being a positive duty in the Sex Discrimination Act.
It wasn't just the Minerals Council, whose tune the government usually dances to. It was also the ACTU, the CPSU, the Law Council, the Discrimination Law Experts Group, the National Foundation for Australian Women, the Women's Legal Centre, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights and the Diversity Council. The vast majority of submitters could see that you've got to have a positive duty on employers to create a safe workplace or you won't fix this problem of 40 per cent of women being sexually harassed at work. So, as I mentioned, the Greens and Labor will be moving a joint amendment to give effect to that most central of recommendations by Commissioner Jenkins, and we beg the government to put politics aside and just do the right thing and support that amendment. It should have been in their own bill. There's no justification for not supporting that amendment. How can they possibly not want women to be safe at work? I genuinely don't understand.
We'll be moving some other amendments as well. An important one is on the need for representative action to be able to be taken. It takes an awful lot of guts for an individual worker to challenge their colleague or their boss, and it often comes at the expense of them keeping that role. It shouldn't be a weight just on individuals' shoulders. Representative actions should be allowed to be taken to fix what is a systemic issue. We also want to make sure that the Human Rights Commission can undertake reviews of systemic workplace issues of their own accord rather than just when the minister asks them to, and we want to make sure that costs are not a barrier to taking action. So we'll be moving that and a host of other amendments when it comes to the committee stage—if we get to that stage before the election. The government has a women problem, and this bill really shows you why.
I rise to make some remarks about the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021. These are serious issues because we want every Australian to have an equal chance at success in life. The data, regrettably, shows that there are many Australian women who are being harassed at work, and that is doing great damage not only to them but also to our country.
This is about work. Work is about a whole lot of things: it's about personal meaning and it's about economic participation. If we don't get these things right then the whole country is much diminished. We do have a problem with female workforce participation. We should be in a stronger position than we are. I think these are issues which have dogged workplaces for too long. The Human Rights Commission data from 2018 shows that two in five women are harassed at work, which is an extraordinarily high number when you think about Australia being a modern, advanced liberal democracy.
The commissioner who performed this work, Kate Jenkins, has said, appropriately:
Workplace sexual harassment is not inevitable. It is not acceptable. It is preventable.
I think that's a good segue to a few remarks on these matters. My friend Kelly O'Dwyer commissioned this report some years ago when she was the Minister for Women. The former minister asked that there be a review into these matters, looking at reporting, risk factors, the legal framework, the existing measures that are used to deal with harassment and the impact on individuals who are harassed. The executive government, through the Attorney-General, has now decided to advance this report, which is important.
This bill puts a few planks down. The first is setting out that harassment is harassment, with a view to eliminating harassment in all workplaces. We in this place regulate the private economy with the slew of workplace laws we have. I often say we have too many, but in this case we clearly need more, as well as better enforcement. So this bill establishes that harassment is a legal and valid reason for dismissal. It gives more opportunities for the commission to put in place punitive measures like stop orders.
Critically, it expands the mandate of the regime to public officials, including members of parliament, public servants, staff of members of parliament, and judges. I have to say I can't understand why all those people weren't already included in these arrangements. I think there is a very important principle at stake here, and that is that everyone's job is important and no-one should be in any different a position to anyone else when it comes to harassment. It doesn't matter who you work for or who you are; you cannot harass people at work. So I think including these additional people is a no-brainer.
Of course, the broad thrust of this is to ensure that there are better tools and more punitive measures to stop harassment. Unless we are able to get on top of this, Australia as an advanced nation will stagnate on the question of female workforce participation. There are more men than women in the workplace, and I don't think that's a good thing. We want people to have an equal shot at economic participation. That is critical for our nation. As to these issues that have been dealt with in the report, I'm very pleased that our government is taking the lead on this. This is not the only part of the reform, but this is a big chunk of the report's recommendations.
Finally, I note that there are some particular issues that the LGBTQI community, including the trans community, would like to see addressed in some form. It may be appropriate to address that here, or it may be appropriate to address it elsewhere, but I think the principle is sound: we want every Australian to have an equal crack at work and be safe at work to provide that economic participation. It shouldn't matter who you are. If there are minority groups that feel that they are in need of additional protections, I think that those should be seriously considered, because it is very important that countries like Australia go out of their way to protect minorities. Minorities are not there to be bashed up; minorities are there to be protected. I thank the Senate.
[by video link] I rise to speak on the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021. The issue of sexual harassment in the workplace has come to the fore in recent years. It's been global: the Me Too movement has sought to hold the wealthy and powerful around the world accountable for sexual abuse. In Australia we've seen a former High Court judge, Justice Heydon, found to have sexually harassed six of his young female associates. There has been an alleged sexual assault in Australian Parliament House. I commend the bravery of Brittany Higgins for speaking out, both on her own behalf and in support of thousands of other survivors around Australia. There's been the March4Justice, where thousands of Australians marched hand in hand to demand gender equality and justice for victims of sexual assault. I was proud and humbled to join one of the marches on parliament's lawns.
While the pandemic of sexual harassment has become regular front-page news, it's not a new story for the vast majority of Australians, because 72 per cent of Australians over the age of 15 have been sexually harassed at some point in their lives. That includes 85 per cent of Australian women and 57 per cent of Australian men. The fact is that people in Australia and around the world, particularly women, have been forced to suffer sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace since time immemorial. It is a plague that I have personally encountered since the 1980s, when I was a union delegate representing workers at the Cronulla Workers Club, where some managers had an unwritten rule for young female workers: if you wanted to pick up more shifts, you had to sleep with the boss; if you refused, or if you stopped, your shifts would get cut.
It was an unthinkable situation for young women, who may have had to use those shifts to pay the bills or to put food on the table for their children. Those women did not have sufficient legislative protections; even if those protections had existed, it was difficult as an individual to enforce them. As is often the case, it was collective action and collective power that ultimately improved protections for young women at the Cronulla Workers Club. We reached an agreement with the club that their hours could not be cut if they had not been working a regular pattern of shifts.
In the 1990s, while I was at the Transport Workers Union, I recall the union being attacked for pursuing the introduction of paid parental leave. That was a fight the TWU eventually won, and paid parental leave was introduced into the award for truck drivers. I was proud to be a part of the fight, and I was prouder still when paid parental leave was enshrined in the National Employment Standards by the Rudd Labor government in 2010.
In 2014, when I was the National Secretary of the Transport Workers Union, we reached an agreement on behalf of the workers, with worker representatives, with Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti for the introduction of five days paid domestic violence leave. We took the same proposal to Alan Joyce's Qantas, which fought tooth and nail against it. After a two-year-long fight, Qantas finally introduced that right in 2016. I commend Mr Borghetti and other business leaders who have recognised that Australians suffering domestic violence deserve to be supported by their employer. However, until paid domestic violence leave is guaranteed as a right by the federal government, people will continue to slip through the cracks.
At a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Job Security, we heard from Ms Terese Kingston, a domestic violence support worker at Mackay Women's Centre. She said:
For a woman in insecure and casual work who is unable to access sick leave, annual leave or domestic violence leave, the ability to safely leave an abusive situation is reduced significantly … I have seen multiple occasions where women have lodged private applications for protection orders and then are forced to withdraw because they are at risk of losing their job.
Ms Kingston goes on to say:
Tragically, I have then seen their names turn up on court lists again several months later … which tells us that they … have been victims of further violence.
No woman in Australia should have to choose between their job and their safety, or the safety of their children.
That is why Labor is committed to enshrining 10 days paid domestic leave in the National Employment Standards. I urge the Morrison government to come on board.
Sexual harassment and abuse continue to plague men and women in workplaces around Australia. Harassment at work often occurs when someone in a position of power preys on someone who is more vulnerable. As work in Australia becomes more precarious, the power imbalance becomes even more pronounced. As more and more Australians are engaged as casuals, contractors, in part-time work, on rolling contracts or short-term contracts, through labour hire companies, or as gig workers with no rights whatsoever, it becomes harder and riskier to speak out about harassment at work. If your contract or your shifts can be cut at the drop of a hat then, just as I saw at the Cronulla Workers Club almost 40 years ago, sexual harassment and abuse can become rife. In fact, this was highlighted in the Respect@Work report itself, which said:
Workers who may be more likely to experience sexual harassment in the workplace include:
… … …
This is particularly true for young women, who are more likely to be carrying out insecure work and more likely to experience sexual harassment.
Mr Tim Petterson, coordinator of Hospo Voice, told the Select Committee on Job Security inquiry earlier this year:
We conducted an extensive survey of more than 400 young women working in hospitality in … 2017, and we found nine out of 10 of those workers had been sexually harassed at work.
When you are employed from one shift to the next and you have no guaranteed hours, it puts you in a position where you're unable to speak up. Ms Mairead Lesman, the Director of the Young Workers Centre, told us about the case of an apprentice chef:
They were sexually harassed by their direct boss and that had a huge impact on their ability to finish their apprenticeship and it had a huge impact on their mental health … Then, when the physical altercation—
between the boss and apprentice—
occurred, the boss told the worker not to tell anybody or they would be fired and they wouldn't be able to complete their apprenticeship.
Then there is the disgraceful state of sexual harassment and assault protections in the gig economy. Companies like Uber classify their workers as contractors to avoid any responsibility or obligation for their safety. A survey by the TWU found that 44 per cent of female ride-share drivers suffered sexual harassment while working. What sort of protections do they have? Karen, a female Uber driver, was sexually harassed by a passenger last year. After she lodged the complaint, Uber banned her from the platform. Karen had also been sexually assaulted two years earlier while working for Uber. After the assault, the perpetrator left her a one-star rating, which impacted her ability to earn income and to get appropriate shifts. Even after a police complaint was filed, Uber never rescinded that rating. With exploitative employers like Uber, if you're harassed or raped at work, your rapist can leave a permanent rating of your performance. It's horrific.
Those are the real stories of Australians in insecure work. Sexual harassment is so widespread, and it particularly impacts those who are already vulnerable and economically insecure.
That's why the landmark Respect@Work report is so important. I want to commend Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins and her team for their comprehensive inquiry and their exceptional report. The Australian Human Rights Commission received 460 submissions, conducted 60 consultations and produced a 930-page report. There can be no question or doubt about the degree of detail and care that's gone into the report and into the 55 practical and carefully considered recommendations that Commissioner Jenkins put forward, which makes it so disappointing that the government's response has fallen so short.
It is bitterly disappointing, but it's not surprising. We have a Prime Minister who could empathise with Ms Higgins only after his wife had urged him to imagine how he would want his own daughters treated. We have a Prime Minister who has refused to launch an investigation into the very serious allegations against the former Attorney-General Mr Porter. We have a Prime Minister who, instead, has reinstated Mr Porter as acting Leader of the House. We have a Prime Minister who refused to meet with the March4Justice protesters and then suggested that they should be grateful they weren't met with force. When we have a Prime Minister who has demonstrated, time and time again, a complete inability to understand or empathise with survivors of sexual abuse, it's no surprise that the bill Mr Morrison put forward falls short.
It has taken more than a year and a half for Mr Morrison to present his legislation in response to the report. The Respect@Work report was first presented to the government as early as January 2020, and the former Attorney-General, Mr Porter, did not meet even once with Commissioner Jenkins about the report or its recommendations. Sadly, Mr Morrison's bill implements only a handful of the report's recommendations. Mr Morrison owes survivors around Australia an explanation of why he has stalled and delayed his response to this report and why he has now failed to implement many of its recommendations.
Labor supports the full adoption and implementation of all recommendations in the report. The Labor dissenting report on the bill provides a full breakdown of many of the recommendations that Mr Morrison has not adopted. Mr Morrison has not adopted recommendation 15, which calls on the government to ratify the International Labour Organization convention on violence and harassment. Mr Morrison has not adopted recommendations 16b and 16c, which would prohibit the creation of a hostile environment. Mr Morrison has not adopted recommendations 17 and 18, which call for the introduction of an enforceable positive duty on all employers to take reasonable measures to eliminate sex discrimination and sexual harassment in their workplace. Mr Morrison has not adopted recommendation 19, which would amend the Australian Human Rights Commission Act to provide the commission with the powers to inquire into systematic unlawful discrimination. Mr Morrison has not adopted recommendation 23, which would amend the Australian Human Rights Commission Act to allow representative groups, such as unions, to bring representative claims to court. Mr Morrison has not adopted recommendation 25, which would amend the Australian Human Rights Commission Act to insert a cost protection provision consistent with the existing provisions in the Fair Work Act. Mr Morrison has not adopted recommendation 28, which would amend the Fair Work Act to expressly prohibit sexual harassment. And Mr Morrison has not adopted recommendation 16a, which would amend the Sex Discrimination Act to introduce a new object to achieve equality between women and men. Instead, the wording in Mr Morrison's bill uses the phrasing 'to achieve, so far as practicable, equality of opportunity between men and women'. What a joke. It certainly seems that Morrison has inserted the phrase 'so far as practicable' because Mr Morrison is only interested in tackling gender inequality when it won't be inconvenient to himself and other men who benefit from it. Even when there are sexual assaults in his own workplace—in the ministerial wing of the Australian parliament—the extent to which Mr Morrison cares about this issue is the extent to which it impacts his own personal popularity and political fortunes.
But, for the 72 per cent of Australians who have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime, and for the millions of other Australians who know someone who has been impacted, this bill is not good enough. And this issue will not be swept away.
Every day, sexual abuse in the workplace continues around Australia. A recent survey by the mining and energy union and the Australian Workers Union found that two-thirds of female fly-in fly-out mine workers in Western Australia had been subjected to verbal sexual harassment, 22 per cent said they'd been offered better working conditions in exchange for sexual favours and one in five said they'd experienced sexual assault. Most telling of all, almost half of female FIFO workers said they did not believe that reporting sexual harassment was encouraged by managers. They also said that they feared being blacklisted as troublemakers if they came forward. That is a damning indictment of some of the richest and most powerful companies in Australia and of the government which allows it to continue.
[by video link] As other speakers have noted, the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021 enacts the government's response to Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins's 2020 Respect@Work report. That outstanding report made 55 recommendations to address widespread and pervasive sexual harassment in the workplace.
It's a sad reality that so many girls and women around us have experienced such harassment while at work. The Human Rights Commission's 2018 sexual harassment survey aptly titled 'Everyone's business' revealed that 39 per cent of women and 26 per cent of men had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the previous five years. If we look over a lifetime, 85 per cent of women and 57 per cent of men said they had experienced it at some point in their lives, and most experienced of them had experienced it multiple times. This is not a niche problem; it is very much mainstream. The behaviours the survey reported range from suggestive comments, offensive jokes, indecent messages and insulting or explicit questions to leering, sexually explicit gifts, sexual nagging, inappropriate invitations, unwelcome touching, indecent exposure and attempted or actual sexual assault. That list is not exhaustive. Unfortunately, most incidents like this go unreported, even though they can make an employee feel unsafe or diminished in what should be a professional environment.
Commissioner Jenkins noted in her Respect@Work report that the rate of change since the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 more than 35 years ago had been 'disappointingly slow'. We still put the onus on the victim to speak up and take action against their colleagues or employers. That can be extremely difficult to do when you're starting out in a workplace or when you're very much dependent on keeping your job as so many people are. Unless we make concerted efforts to tackle these behaviours at work, nothing will change. Unless we do more to prevent harassment and support employees, this harassment will only continue.
This bill makes some good first steps, such as enabling the Fair Work Commission to issue stop orders for harassment. But I agree with many other senators before me that the bill does not go far enough to implement the recommendations of Commissioner Jenkins's report. In her report, the commissioner says:
Workplace sexual harassment is not inevitable. It is not acceptable. It is preventable.
She also notes that a safe and harassment-free workplace is also a productive workplace. I think that is self-evident to all of us. It is only logical that employers be asked to do more to prevent harassment in the workplace for those reasons.
The Respect@Work report recommended that the Sex Discrimination Act be amended to include a positive duty on employers, except perhaps the very smallest businesses, to take reasonable steps to prevent sex discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation. It seems the absence of this positive duty means that many employers focus on only complying with work, health and safety laws, which means it is solely up to the victim to initiate action. The government does not appear to consider this positive duty necessary, because there is an implied duty to prevent harassment in WHS laws that require employers to provide a safe workplace and to reasonably avoid health and safety risks. If this is the case, I see no harm, and, in fact, only benefit, in making that duty explicit, telling employers that it is their job to make sure they educate and protect employees from this type of harm, as they do with any other workplace harms, and that they cannot turn a blind eye to sexual and gender based harassment or dismiss it as just a bit of fun.
There are a number of other proposed amendments that take this bill from being a significant first step, which is how the Senate inquiry report described it, to making it a more fulsome piece of legislation that better reflects the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's Respect@Work report. I intend to support all the amendments that enact those missed recommendations, as they are sensible and necessary if we are to get this reform through.
To continue to ensure we stamp out opportunities for abuse and harassment, I foreshadow that I have a second reading amendment that will ask the federal government to work with the states and territories to ensure that employers and managers who routinely hire teenagers under the age of 18 are required to undertake working-with-children checks. This issue was raised during the Senate inquiry, and it struck me as being common sense that we address this loophole to protect teenagers embarking on their first jobs, many of which are in the retail and fast-food sectors.
The SDA told the inquiry that 51 per cent of its female members aged 15 to 17 years of age had experienced sexual harassment in the last five years. That is a shocking number. Teenage boys aren't immune. Fourteen per cent of teen boys also experienced sexual harassment. The union's national assistant secretary, Julia Fox, told the inquiry:
Do parents know that their child, their daughter, is more likely to be sexually harassed at work than not? What environment are we sending our kids into? It's their first job, and this is what happens. Both retail and fast food industries also employ large numbers of children under the age of 18, yet there is no requirement to have a working with children check. A volunteer coach at the netball club or the football club and, indeed, a parent coach is required to have one, but a manager at a McDonald's or a supermarket isn't, yet, they too, are working with children.
I'm not naive enough to think that working-with-children checks will stamp out this problem—not by a long shot—but it does make it more explicit to employers that they have an obligation, a duty of care, to ensure their young employees are safe from sexual harassment while at work.
To conclude, this bill is a very good starting point, but it is not the end point. I will support this bill, and, as I mentioned, I will also support key amendments that enact further recommendations of Commissioner Jenkins's Respect@Work report.
Everyone, regardless of their sex, has the right to feel safe from sexual and gender harassment. Since the Sex Discrimination Act was first introduced, in 1984, we've come a long way. However, since then, time and time again, we are unfortunately reminded that the work is not done and that there is still more to do. That is why I'm so grateful that we have people such as Kate Jenkins, who does such important work to make Australia a better place. As Ms Jenkins states in the Respect@Work report:
Workplace sexual harassment is not inevitable. It is not acceptable. It is preventable.
… … …
Sexual harassment is not a women's issue: it is a societal issue, which every Australian, and every Australian workplace, can contribute to addressing.
The Morrison government's commitment to creating effective, meaningful policies to positively improve women's workforce issues is why the government funded the Australian Human Rights Commission to undertake its landmark National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces, the first of its kind in the world. The national inquiry found that, sadly, too many workplaces fall short and that women across Australia are still subject to harassment and discrimination. The government's response to the national inquiry, which was released in April 2021, is about creating a new culture of respectful behaviour in Australian workplaces. It provides a clear and comprehensive path forward to prevent and address workplace sexual harassment, while supporting meaningful culture change in Australian workplaces.
The inquiry found that the existing legal and regulatory frameworks for addressing workplace harassment are complex and difficult to navigate. This, as a result, has made it difficult for many victims to deal with their cases of discrimination and harassment. That is why the government is acting quickly to strengthen the national antidiscrimination and industrial relations frameworks, by simplifying and enhancing protections against sex based harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
We want to see change and we want this change to happen as quickly as possible. If we are to be successful, state and territory governments, industry groups, professional organisations, employers, workers and the private sector all have an ongoing role to play in building a culture of safe and respectful workplaces in Australia.
This bill implements the majority of the legislative recommendations in the Respect@Work report, focusing on the changes that can be implemented quickly that will see the greatest improvement to the antidiscrimination and industrial relations frameworks. The bill would also amend the existing entitlement to compassionate leave to enable an employee to take up to two days of paid compassionate leave if the employee or their spouse or de facto partner experiences a miscarriage.
This bill sets out very clearly that this government has no tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace. This bill will make important changes to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. This act provides an important framework to protect against discrimination as well as discrimination involving harassment. Importantly, this bill will introduce a new objects clause of achieving equality of opportunity between men and women. This is an important objective; however, it is not an objective that legislative reform can solve on its own.
The Respect@Work report concluded that sex based harassment, while it is already prohibited, is not well understood, which is why steps have been taken in this bill to clarify that sex based harassment is unlawful. Importantly, this bill will ensure that prohibitions against sexual harassment and sex based harassment cover all forms of workers. This means that the current exemption for state public servants will be removed, and it will be clarified, at the government's own initiative, that the Sex Discrimination Act applies to members of parliament, ministerial staff and judges. We want to ensure that, no matter the workplace and no matter your work status, you are protected by law.
Amendments will be made to the Australian Human Rights Commission Act to reduce procedural barriers in order to encourage complaints. This will be done by providing that the president's discretion to terminate a complaint initiated under the Sex Discrimination Act arises after 24 months. In addition to the reforms to the Sex Discrimination Act and the Australian Human Rights Commission Act, amendments will be made to the Fair Work Act so that it is clear what actions can be taken to deal with workplace sexual harassment. By adding a new legislative note in the unfair dismissal provisions, it will be clarified that workplace sexual harassment is a valid reason for dismissal. This bill will also make clear that the Fair Work Commission can, within the existing stop-bullying jurisdiction, make orders to stop sexual harassment.
These amendments highlight this government's commitment to eliminating the scourge of workplace sexual and gender based harassment that lurks within our society. We are calling on every leader of government possible to address this issue and we will continue to do so.
As we announced in the 2021-22 budget, the government is providing more than $64 million over four years to implement the government's response to the Respect@Work report. This builds on the initial $2.1 million over three years provided in October 2020 to implement the key recommendations of the report.
As this bill outlines, the Morrison government is committed to taking action by expanding the scope of existing harassment provisions, promoting clarity for employers and workers and reducing procedural barriers for sexual harassment complaints. With these, we can ensure that, under the legislative frameworks, all Australians are protected from sexual harassment and sexual discrimination.
[by video link] I also would like to make a contribution to this debate on the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021. This bill represents the government's response to the Australian Human Rights Commission's landmark Respect@Work report. It amends the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 and the Fair Work Act 2009.
We are, broadly, supporting this bill because we understand and appreciate that the issue of providing a safe workplace for all Australians is too important to delay. The work needs to be done urgently. But we also acknowledge that the government has completely missed this lesson. For eight years—eight long years—they've known that important work needs to be done, and they have not done it. And they've taken far too long to respond to this landmark report. Theirs is a half-hearted, partial response to what is a detailed and comprehensive report about a problem that Australian women from all walks of life deal with throughout their lives and which many of them deal with multiple times in their life.
The commissioner found that Australia's existing laws relating to sexual harassment are out of date and that they are failing to protect workers. The commission found that reform is urgently needed, and that's a view shared by many, many stakeholders. The reform work is urgent, but this government sat on the report for more than a year. The report sat with then Attorney-General Christian Porter, who didn't do a thing, and it was only earlier this year, when the incredibly brave women came forward to share their stories of sexual harassment and assault, that this government was shamed into action. As a result, instead of the detailed, careful, considered policy response that we should expect to a report like this, what we've seen is a kneejerk political response to what is a serious, ongoing, society-wide problem. One in three people experienced sexual harassment at work in the past five years: 40 per cent of women and around 25 per cent of men. First Nations Australians were more likely to experience workplace sexual harassment than non–First Nations people. And, if these statistics weren't bad enough and shocking enough to spur the government into action, we know that widespread workplace harassment costs the Australian economy $3½ billion a year. All of these statistics should shock us. But for many Australians they're not shocking because this is the reality of life that they live every single day. They know these statistics because they live these statistics. They make up these statistics.
The Respect@Work report tells us that harassment is happening everywhere but certain industries place people at even greater risk. We know that retail, hospitality, healthcare and social assistance workers are at particular risk, as are women, young people, those in precarious and insecure work and those from diverse backgrounds. These people are overrepresented in these industries and can be overrepresented in the statistics. And, of course, we've heard terrible, terrible allegations of harassment in this workplace: the federal parliament—a workplace that should set the standard for workplace safety. It should set the standard for acceptable behaviour. And I do want to acknowledge the incredibly brave women who came forward, and those who continue to come forward, to talk about this and to shine a light on it. It's incredibly important that you do that, and we're listening and we believe you. But it shouldn't take the bravery of young women to come forward to force the government to act on protecting women at work and to get them interested in this area of policy reform.
Labor is committed to stamping out sexual harassment across society, but we need to see the same urgency of commitment from the government. Back in April, the Prime Minister said the government had agreed to all the recommendations of the Respect@Work report, but, as is too often the case with the Morrison government, when you take a closer look at the detail you will be disappointed. Many of the recommendations were only agreed in part or in principle. Others were simply noted. They want the credit for the strong response, but the strong response actually requires detailed policy work to follow it through. Too many recommendations are either not being acted on or have been largely ignored—essentially, watering down key elements of the response we should see to this report. So, whilst Labor supports this bill broadly, my colleague Jenny McAllister will be moving amendments to the bill. Importantly, one of these amendments would provide for 10 days of paid domestic violence leave. While this was not a specific recommendation of this report, we know from stakeholders and from women with lived experience that this is an essential reform to ensure women's safety at work.
We know that many stakeholders have called the government's response to this report 'a missed opportunity'—a missed opportunity like many missed opportunities in policy work that we've seen from this government.
Let's just be clear: Labor supports all 55 recommendations. We want to send a clear and unambiguous message that sexual harassment must stop, and to do that you need to support this report in full. Sexual harassment must stop in all workplaces across the entire country. We are committed to doing what it takes to do this. We are committed to doing the hard, detailed policy work required to keep people safe at work. We believe in it. It is core to our mission as a labour party and a labour movement. We will never stop fighting until men and women get the dignity and respect at work that they deserve.
[by video link] The Australian Greens believe that women have the right to equal respect, responsibilities, opportunities and outcomes in society, and we believe that women have the right to equal access to and participation in decision-making processes in all areas of political, social, cultural, intellectual and economic life. These should not be controversial statements. These should be outcomes, across the board, across the political spectrum, that we should be seeing and achieving across all parts of life. Sadly, that's not the reality.
I want to acknowledge the incredible work of my colleague Senator Waters in the portfolio of women and the work of all Australian Greens MPs who are advocating for gender equality. This is fundamental to who we Greens are as a party. That's why we need to see clear and urgent action so that this reality of genuine gender equality across the board is reached. We need that action so that women are safe at work and so that the recommendations of the landmark Jenkins Respect@Work report are actually implemented, including the core recommendation that there should be a positive duty on employers to ensure a safe workplace. The right of women to be safe at work should not be controversial and, particularly given that the Kate Jenkins recommendations were given to government at the beginning of last year, it should not be something that we are lagging on. The government has been so slow off the mark, and it is so disappointing to see a response that doesn't go to this core recommendation of the Jenkins review.
This is so important. We have to overcome the situation where, currently, one-third of workers in Australian workplaces report being sexually harassed and where forty per cent of women report being sexually harassed at work. These are just the most appalling situations. You would think that a government faced with those statistics would really be pulling out all the stops to do everything possible to address this problem—to make sure that we dramatically reduce the experience of sexual harassment, to cut through women's experience of sexual harassment at work and to do everything possible to address it. The government should be doing everything it can to promote gender equality and build a fairer society.
Senator Waters has spoken this morning on our overall response to this legislation, the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021, and what changes we Greens think should be enacted in our laws to support women. I fully support the measures that she has outlined in her speech. You can take that as read. What I want to focus on today, as the Greens spokesperson for LGBTIQA+ people, is the fact that we've also got an opportunity to make some changes to our legislative framework that will improve outcomes for people who are transgender, people who are gender diverse and non-binary and people who have variations in sex characteristics, because these people are also dramatically impacted by gender inequality, and equality should not be negotiable.
Kate Jenkins, in her report, noted that there's 'increasing evidence that sexual harassment affects some groups of people in disproportionate ways', noting:
In addition to gender, other factors may increase the likelihood that a person may experience workplace sexual harassment. Workers who may be more likely to experience sexual harassment in the workplace include:
So we've got intersectionality going on here. These are intersexual issues.
In addition to that, on the basis of people who are transgender, gender diverse and non-binary and people with variations in sex characteristics, there is discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Just do some sums in your head. If 30 per cent—almost a third—of all workers in Australia report having experienced sexual harassment at work and 40 per cent of women experience sexual harassment at work, just have a think about what the levels of sexual harassment are for people in these groups. When for each of these groups there is very much a level of one or two or even more people who are more likely to experience sexual harassment, that is what their experience is going to be.
I particularly want to focus on the fact that in our legislation that would protect people of diverse gender identities and people with variations in sex characteristics there are gaping holes that are not being addressed by the legislation being proposed today. In particular, gender identity and sex characteristics are not attributes currently protected under the Fair Work Act. I'd like to draw on some work by the advocate and activist Alastair Lawrie, who noted:
… the Fair Work Act 2009 does not protect trans, gender diverse and intersex people against workplace discrimination.
While this legislation prohibits adverse treatment on the basis of sexual orientation—thereby protecting lesbians, gay men and bisexuals (at least to some extent …)—it does not include equivalent protections for trans, gender diverse and intersex people.
In short, the Fair Work Act 2009 does not protect trans, gender diverse and intersex Australians from mistreatment or unfair dismissal based on who they are. This is either a gross oversight, or a deliberate choice to treat transphobic and intersexphobic workplace discrimination less seriously than other forms of mistreatment.
So not only are trans or gender diverse people or people with variations in sex characteristics not protected from sexual harassment or discrimination when they are at work; there is also considerable discrimination going on when it comes to trans and gender diverse people or people with variations in sex characteristics actually gaining employment. So we've got a situation where people are struggling to actually get a job. So many trans and gender-diverse people and non-binary people just don't get jobs.
Just this morning, a contact of mine, Ricki Spencer—a trans woman from Melbourne—wrote on her Facebook page:
Just had another rejection for a teaching job. I have now applied for over 45 teaching positions in government and non government schools in Victoria. It feels that in 2021 when you disclose that you have a mobility disability and are a transgender woman you are not seen as a suitable candidate for a teaching position.
I completed my Bachelor of Education specialising in English and qualified to teach primary and secondary schooling at Victorian University, a Graduate Certificate in Religious Education at Australian Catholic University and a Masters of Education specialising in Diversity at the University of Melbourne.
Yet I feel that our gender becomes an issue and schools are still heteronormative in thinking and presenting.
How can we ever address the issues confronting our students who are struggling with gender identity in school settings if they won't allow teachers like myself to be role models in schools?
Ricki ended her post on Facebook this morning with:
Why am I so unwanted?
This is tragic, and this is the reality: trans and gender diverse and non-binary people with variations in sex characteristics are being discriminated against now, under our existing legislation.
We've got the opportunity today. I'm putting forward some amendments to the government's legislation today that would address these issues, that would enable us to make gender identity and the variations in sex characteristics protected attributes. There is an opportunity to do that to improve this legislation today.
Why does this matter and why does it need to happen now? Because it matters for people's minds. I'd like to quote the submission from Just.Equal about why this matters for people's lives overall:
…the recent Private Lives 3 Report found that respondents were far more likely to experience unfair treatment on the basis of gender identity than sexual orientation:
While 4.5% of respondents reported being unfairly treated 'always' or 'a lot' in the pa st 12 months because of their sexual orientation, 19.8% of respondents reported the same with respect to their gender identity.
In a separate question, 9.9% of LGBT respondents combined reported being 'refused employment/promotion' in the previous 12 months, which is a disturbingly high figure.
Meanwhile, although intersex status was not included in the above questions, when asked whether they currently felt accepted 'a lot' or 'always' at work, only 50% of intersex respondents answered yes.
Just.Equal also said:
It is clear to us that trans, gender diverse and intersex employees need at least the same level of workplace protections as their lesbian, gay and bisexual counterparts, as well as women, people with disability and others.
It's very clear that Ricki Spencer is not alone. This is not a unique situation that she is going through. This is widespread across Australian society.
We think that the legislation before us today is an opportunity to address this gap. Given this legislation is a response to the Respect@Work report, overall in our Greens engagement we are focusing on the important work being done to make safer workplaces for women. I again want to commend Senator Waters for her work on this issue. But what we're asking with regard to trans people, gender-diverse people, non-binary people and people with variations in sex characteristics is quite simple: to make minor amendments to the Fair Work Act to ensure that the attributes that are protected under the Sex Discrimination Act are also protected under the Fair Work Act.
I'm going to be moving two amendments later on in the debate on this bill. The first one would adopt a newer definition for 'sex characteristics' which would draw on recent state legislation, which is now understood to be best practice. It would be updating the Sex Discrimination Act to change the definition of 'intersex people' to 'people with variations in sex characteristics'. Another amendment I'm going to be moving, which I've requested after discussions with colleagues, does something similar. I do want to thank the procedure office for their quick work in preparing it at short notice. That amendment takes a slightly different technical approach. Rather than creating a new definition in federal legislation for 'sex characteristics', it would simply include 'intersex' status in the Fair Work Act by reference to the Sex Discrimination Act. That one is not our preferred option—and I'll speak more to it when we're in the committee stage.
I really hope that either of these amendments will be adopted so that we can change our legislation so that people who are transgender, gender-diverse or non-binary or who have variations in sex characteristics can be protected under our laws just as other people are and so that we can take the steps forward that we need to be taking to ensure that we are truly reaching equality—whether it's equality for women, equality for gender-diverse people or equality for people with variations in sex characteristics. We need to actually reach equality. It's not good enough to just continue to be on the journey towards equality. We have an opportunity today to be taking strong, simple action to move us towards actually reaching equality for all Australians.
[by video link] It's my pleasure to rise and speak on the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021. Sexual harassment is a blight upon our workplaces. It corrupts the bonds of trust which workers should develop with one another and clothes its victims in fear and shame. It is absolutely unacceptable that this kind of behaviour still persists in our great nation. As we heard in this debate, the statistics on sexual harassment in Australia tell a grim tale. Very concerningly, the Australian Human Rights Commission found, in 2018, that only 17 per cent of those who experienced sexual harassment in the previous five years had come forward to make a formal complaint. This means that most victims of sexual harassment suffer in silence. We cannot allow this situation to continue.
This bill is just one of the ways the government has responded to the need to bolster and supplement our already strong laws against sexual harassment. In particular, it responds substantially to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's Respect@Work report, and I want to commend the exceptionally hard work of Kate Jenkins. The bill makes a wide range of improvements, such as clarifying that harassing a person on the basis of sex is prohibited under the Sex Discrimination Act by making this explicit on the face of the act. It provides that more workers will be protected from sexual harassment, particularly vulnerable workers, volunteers, interns and self-employed persons. It extends the time frame for which a complaint can be made to the Australian Human Rights Commission to reduce procedural barriers for complainants under the Sex Discrimination Act. It clarifies that the Fair Work Commission may make orders to stop sexual harassment in the workplace, which is a very important provision of course. It clarifies that sexual harassment can be a valid reason for dismissal under the Fair Work Act—another very important provision. And the Sex Discrimination Act aims to achieve so far as practicable equality of opportunity between men and women. It also amends the Sex Discrimination Act so that a person who assists someone to sexually harass a person can also be found to have engaged in unlawful conduct.
This is the kind of bill which the Australian people expect from this government. It is based on sound evidence, it is realistic and it is effective. It is also a bill that is the result of the hard work of the coalition government. I want to particularly recognise the former Minister for Women, Kelly O'Dwyer, who initiated the Respect@Work inquiry which resulted in these recommendations and now this bill before the parliament.
As we've heard in this debate, Labor and the Greens are very good at throwing mud, but sex discrimination hasn't just been an issue since our government was elected in 2013. It was very much thriving when Labor was in power, yet we saw no such measures from Labor to provide these important protections in the workplace. The government's commitment to women was also highlighted in the recent budget, and it is incredibly substantial, with over $3 billion worth of funding allocated for women's safety, women's economic security, affordable child care, health and wellbeing, and domestic violence support. The government is also providing more than $64 million over four years to implement its response to the Respect@Work report, including over $43 million for additional legal assistance funding for specialist lawyers with workplace and discrimination law expertise. As we have seen in the budget, as we have seen in this bill and as we have seen in all of the other government's measures, the government's commitment to women is unmatched.
In keeping with this commitment, the bill doesn't stop at just sexual harassment; it also includes a very significant amendment to the Fair Work Act to enable an employee to take compassionate leave if they or their spouse or de facto partner have a miscarriage. Not only will this promote women's workforce participation and women's economic security; it also represents government at its best—caring for those whose lives have been seared with the scars of suffering.
I want to particularly address the concerns raised by senators opposite, particularly Senator Waters, because I am concerned that the government's position in relation to some recommendations made by Commissioner Jenkins has been substantially misrepresented.