Between April and June 2018, the Australian Human Rights Commission conducted a national survey to investigate the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces and the community more broadly.
The results of the 2018 National Survey were more detailed and more robust than ever before, with more than 10,000 Australians surveyed – five times the number of people who have participated in previous years.
The results of the survey were revealed in a Respect@Work report released by Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, on 5 March 2020.
The report provides a comprehensive set of recommendations for preventing and addressing sexual harassment.
It also highlights that the Australian Government, states and territories, employers, and industry groups all have an important role to play in supporting cultural change and creating safe workplaces.
In ‘A Roadmap for Respect: Preventing and Addressing Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces’ (the Roadmap for Respect), the Government provides its response and sets out its long-term commitment to preventing and addressing sexual harassment.
The Australian Government has agreed to (in full, in-principle, or in-part) or noted all 55 recommendations outlined in the Respect@Work report.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said everyone has a role to play to stop sexual harassment and creating safe workplaces.
“It is not only immoral and despicable and even criminal, it denies Australians, especially women, their personal security and their economic security by not being safe at work,” he said.
“Our response is based on the Government’s values of respect, dignity, choice, equality of opportunity and justice.”
“This is a culture that we all have to change for the better across our society, by changing our behaviour.”
Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said sexual harassment is unacceptable in any context – whether in the workplace or elsewhere.
“Building a culture of respectful relationships in the workplace is a key focus in responding to the Report. Everyone has the right to feel safe at work,” Attorney-General Cash said.
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, said respect has to be a national commitment, with governments, workplaces, communities and individuals owning the problem of sexual harassment and the solutions.
“Ending sexual harassment is everyone’s business,” Minister Payne said.
“We can all find ways to show leadership to ensure women can contribute fully in our national life without being held back by sexual harassment.”
To lead this national effort, the Government has outlined a number of measures and reforms set out in the Roadmap, including:
- The creation of the Respect@Work Implementation taskforce to deliver legislative and regulatory reform;
- Simplifying and strengthening the legal framework, existing rights and obligations for employees and employers;
- Supporting greater coordination between agencies and services to ensure workers and employers have access to consistent information.
The Government’s response also places an emphasis on preventative measures, acknowledging more can be done to prevent sexual harassment from occurring in the first place. To support preventative action at the national level, the Australian Government is also committed to:
- Delivering education and training programs across a range of sectors;
- Supporting targeted research and evidence development on prevention strategies; and
- Enhancing data collection and evidence gathering mechanisms.
Leadership from all levels of government and industry is crucial to ensure that recommendations are successfully implemented.
To support national action, the Australian Government is committed to leading and facilitating discussions with state and territory governments, as well as the private sector.
The Roadmap for Respect is designed to complement existing work under the current National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children (2010‑22) and ensure alignment with the development of the next National Plan.
The National Plan is the cornerstone of national collaboration to prevent and address violence against women and their children.
Work is already underway to implement the Report’s recommendations. In 2020, the Australian Government committed $2.1 million, to fund the implementation of nine key recommendations from the Report.
This included the establishment of the Respect@Work Council, which will provide the foundation for implementing other recommendations in the Report.
Action has already commenced on:
- Developing the Respect@Work website as an online platform to provide free, practical information and education resources for employers and workers;
- Developing a package of training and education resources on the nature, drivers and impacts of sexual harassment as well as the rights and responsibilities of workers and employers; and
- Preparing for the fifth National Survey on Sexual Harassment in Australian workplaces.
The Roadmap for Respect provides a clear path for action to achieve meaningful cultural change across the nation and to create safer workplaces for all Australians.
Chief Executive Officer of the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA), Tania Constable, said the Federal Government’s response to Respect@Work report sends a strong message that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in the workplace.
“The amendments proposed to the Sex Discrimination Act and Fair Work Act allow for meaningful change to take place,” Ms Constable said.
“Tougher penalties, new dismissal laws and extending the lifespan of sexual harassment complaints will stamp down on this abhorrent behaviour and make workplaces safer for everyone.”
“The proposed legal and regulatory changes will enable workplace cultural change to be accelerated,” she said. “We urge bipartisan support for these changes.”
Ms Constable said the MCA commits to working closely with the Government to implement these critical legislative and regulatory reforms in the minerals industry.
“Earlier this year, the MCA announced the expansion of the scope of the minerals industry’s safety and health policy and released a strong and direct statement on the importance of eliminating sexual harassment in Australian mining workplaces,” she said.
“The Safe, Healthy and Respectful Workplaces policy is focused on building and sustaining respectful workplaces, and combined with the industry’s commitment to eliminating sexual harassment will ensure Australian mining companies can work together to end unacceptable and illegal behaviour.”
Ms Constable noted that the MCA established a Board chaired Respect@Work Taskforce of members to drive this essential reform.
“Sending a clear message across the minerals industry and the community that sexual harassment is unacceptable and will not be tolerated will put the sector on the right path for change,” she stated.
“The industry’s commitment will be implemented through an industry code and toolkit, to be released soon, to establish clear expectations and protocols on preventing and responding to sexual harassment in our workplaces.”