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Public consultation to progress further Respect@Work recommendations

Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash
Media Release

The Australian Government has commenced public consultation on options to progress further legislative reforms from the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's Respect@Work Report.

"This consultation process will inform the Government's next steps to consider the legal frameworks that protect Australians from sexual harassment at work," the Attorney-General said.

The Respect@Work Report made 13 recommendations related to amending Commonwealth legislation. The Government swiftly implemented 6 of these recommendations through the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Act 2021, which commenced on 11 September 2021.

"The Respect at Work Act was a significant achievement and immediately strengthened the overarching legal frameworks with respect to sex discrimination and sexual harassment in Australian workplaces," the Attorney-General said.

The Government is now consulting on options to progress the final 6 recommendations relating to Commonwealth legislation. These proposals are:

  • provide that creating or facilitating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or offensive environment on the basis of sex is expressly prohibited (recommendation 16(c))
  • introduce a positive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment from occurring and provide the Australian Human Rights Commission with the function of assessing compliance with the positive duty, and to equip the Commission appropriately to enforce that duty (recommendations 17 and 18)
  • provide the Australian Human Rights Commission with a broad inquiry function to inquire into systemic unlawful discrimination, including sexual harassment (recommendation 19)
  • allow unions and other representative groups to bring representative claims to court (recommendation 23), and
  • insert a cost provision into Australian Human Rights Commission Act to provide that a party to proceedings may only be ordered to pay the other party's costs in limited circumstances (recommendation 25).

The Attorney-General said the Government is seeking views on whether these legislative recommendations can and should be implemented and, if so, options and practical challenges associated with implementation.

"I encourage everyone—including legal experts, legal practitioners, representative organisations, employers, businesses and individuals who have experienced sexual harassment — to get involved," the Attorney-General said.

The consultation process is part of Government's response to the Respect@Work Report. The Government has fully implemented or fully funded 42 of the 55 recommendations and committed more than $66 million in funding for its implementation in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 Budgets.

To follow the implementation progress of the recommendations, visit: A Roadmap for Respect – The Commonwealth Government's response to the Respect@Work Report (ag.gov.au)

A consultation paper outlining the options to progress the legislative recommendations has been released. The accompanying survey is now open and will close on Friday 18 March 2022.

If you need immediate assistance or support you can contact 1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732.