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Government set to outline crackdown on workplace sexual harassment

The Morrison government will this week outline its plans to overhaul the way the country deals with workplace sexual harassment in its long-awaited response to the Respect@Work report.

The landmark report from Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins was handed to the government in January 2020 and released publicly last March. It made 55 recommendations aimed at shifting from a complaints-based system that puts a heavy burden on victims to one where employers must proactively stamp out sexual harassment and create safe workplaces.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks with Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks with Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The government’s response will be the key focus of the first meeting of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s new cabinet women’s taskforce on Tuesday. It is expected to be announced once the full cabinet has approved it on Wednesday, the same day Minister for Women’s Safety Anne Ruston meets her state counterparts about the next national blueprint to reduce violence against women.

The government has been under increasing pressure to formally respond to the report as it reels from a string of allegations of sexual harassment, abuse and misbehaviour towards women.

Earlier this year it said it was already acting on nine recommendations – it allocated $2.1 million in October’s budget to establish a Respect@Work Council and run a survey every four years on the prevalence of sexual harassment.

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Minister for Women Marise Payne did not directly answer questions in Senate estimates last month about whether she supported the central idea that the onus for eliminating sexual harassment should be put on employers. Assistant Minister for Women Amanda Stoker, who was given responsibility for the Respect@Work response in late December, was not available for comment.

Labor’s spokeswoman on the prevention of family violence, Jenny McAllister, said it was disgraceful the government had taken so long to get to work on the recommendations.

“This report, like others on women’s policy, has been left languishing on the shelf,” she said. “Only now, in the glare of media spotlight, the government is scrambling to respond to the report’s 55 recommendations, commencing with its commitment to ‘prioritise’ just nine of them. Australian women deserve better.”

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