Sex harassment bill passes lower house

November 07, 2022 12:17 PM AEDT | By AAPNEWS
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Stamping out sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace requires the whole country to act, the prime minister has declared.

Anthony Albanese said new laws implementing recommendations from sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins' Respect at Work report would be a "map to a better future".

The legislation, which passed the House of Representatives on Monday, would place an onus on employers to take "reasonable and proportionate" measures to eliminate sexual discrimination in the workplace.

The Australian Human Rights Commission will also be beefed up with new powers to enforce the requirements.

Employers found not to be meeting their obligations will be handed compliance notices by the commission.

The prime minister told parliament the fact that so many workplaces remained unsafe for employees was unacceptable.

"This is an issue for over half the country, for women, but it's also an issue for the nation as a whole," Mr Albanese said.

"We're all as a nation held back when we don't value and create the opportunity for all of us, men and women, to participate fully in our economy and in our society."

The report was published in March 2020, laying out 55 recommendations to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

As part of the new laws, federal public service organisations will be required to report to the workplace gender equality agency about its efforts.

"We must never accept that sexual harassment is somehow inevitable or unavoidable, it is anything but," Mr Albanese said.

"Nor should we be tempted by the dangerous fiction that we're somehow incapable of improvement."

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said while the laws are a good start, there is more work to do on the issue.

"This is just the start ... of a conversation about human rights and anti-discrimination, a conversation that I welcome and want to keep having," he said.

Independent MP Kylea Tink said the laws were the first step to broader reform measures to stamp out sexual harassment.

"The Respect at Work review was a long and thorough process finally bringing to light what many women have known to be true for decades: we need to do better in workplaces right around the country," she said.

"This bill provides vital reform to eliminate sexual harassment and gender based inequalities. At the same time, however, it highlights the patchwork of discrimination and human rights laws in play right across our country."

Greens Senate leader Larissa Waters said women were still forced to pay large costs to take sexual harassment cases to court.

"They're saying each party should bear their own costs ... the experts are saying that is a red flag to women and women will be too nervous to risk possible costs and therefore they won't take their complaints to court," she told reporters in Canberra.

"You can't dangle an improvement in sexual harassment laws in front of women and then put it beyond their reach because of money."


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