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Respect@Work Council Forum

The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP

Respect@Work Council Forum

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia - Sydney


I will start by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we meet, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present. Today I would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional owners of Tallawoladah, the land from which I speak today.

It is with pleasure that I welcome you all to the Respect@Work Council Forum.

Thank you, Kate, for your introduction, and for your work as Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner. Thank you to the members of the Council, and participants here in person and online for the opportunity to address this Forum today.

I am heartened to see so many of you here today to engage on these important issues, and your commitment to creating positive change in our workplaces.

Thank you all for coming.

Before I begin, I would like to express my gratitude to the individuals – particularly women – and organisations who have spoken up about the scourge of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Your words are powerful, they are eloquent, they are courageous, and our government has heard you.

We now have the opportunity to take bold and decisive action to realise an Australia with safer and harassment-free workplaces.

My colleague – Senator Katy Gallagher – has asked me to extend her apologies for not being able to make it here today. As well as being the Minister for Finance, the Minister for the Public Service and the Manager of Government Business in the Senate, Senator Gallagher is the Minister for Women and she will play a key role in delivering on the Government’s commitment to implement all of the recommendations of the Respect@Work Report. I look forward to working closely with Senator Gallagher, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Tony Burke, and all of my other ministerial colleagues as we work to deliver on this important commitment.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

My colleagues and I acknowledge the seriousness and pervasiveness of the issue that has driven the work of the Respect@Work Council, and brings us to this Forum today – workplace sexual harassment.

The Respect@Work Report, and a range of more recent reports and inquiries, continue to highlight the unacceptable levels of workplace sexual harassment in Australia.

No industry or profession is unaffected – we all grapple with this issue, and we all have the opportunity to be part of the solution.

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s national survey on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces in 2018 found that one in three people experienced sexual harassment at work in the 5 years to 2018 – this includes almost 2 in 5 women and just over one in 4 men.

The Commission also found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with a disability and members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely on average to experience workplace sexual harassment.

As well as the harm it causes to individuals, workplace harassment is estimated to cost the Australian economy $3.5 billion a year.

The Australian Human Rights Commission will be undertaking its 5th national survey over the coming months and I, like all of you, am interested to see the outcomes from this survey.

The results will help inform our ongoing prevention efforts, and guide our strategies to support those affected by sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is unacceptable, and it is by no means inevitable. It is preventable. And our Government will work to ensure it is addressed.

Implementation of all Respect@Work Report recommendations

The Australia's legal system should provide a framework that allows us to protect and care for all Australians.

I am proud to be part of a Government that is committed to protecting women from sexual harassment and gender-based violence.

Our systems should protect and support victim-survivors and ensure they can access the protections of our legal system.

I cannot go further without acknowledging the leadership of the late Senator, the Honourable Susan Ryan AO, who introduced the Sex Discrimination Act in 1984, which specifically prohibited sexual harassment at work and established the role of Sex Discrimination Commissioner within the Australian Human Rights Commission.

This Government will continue to build on that legacy – as previous Labor Governments have done before – by fully implementing the recommendations of the Respect@Work Report.

This was a key election commitment, and is a key priority of our new government.

To this end, the Government will work with the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Respect@Work Council under the leadership of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, employers, workers, unions, and legal experts to make legislative change and finalise the implementation of other recommendations as a matter of priority.

In terms of legislative changes, the federal government is committed to introducing a positive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace in the Sex Discrimination Act.

We will also amend the Fair Work Act to:

  • explicitly prohibit sexual harassment;
  • enable unions or other organisations to bring sex discrimination legal action on behalf of complainants; and
  • and we will establish cost protections for complainants.

These reforms will improve workplace protections for sexual harassment and improve access to justice for those who experience unlawful sex discrimination.

The Government has also committed to investing more than $35 million over 4 years towards Respect@Work implementation – including $24 million to properly fund Working Women’s Centres across Australia.

This funding will also enable the Australian Human Rights Commission to establish a one-stop shop and put in place a disclosure process to assist those who have experienced sexual harassment, to hear and confidentially document their historical disclosures. Government funding will support the Commission to identify practical strategies to strengthen the way we prevent and respond to sexual harassment at work, as well as support those who have experienced sexual harassment.

I know Commissioner Jenkins will also be speaking more about the work the Commission is doing to develop practical education and training materials to improve people’s understanding of the nature, drivers and impacts of sexual harassment and their rights and responsibilities.


I want to express my sincere thanks, and appreciation, to all employers and employer groups and other stakeholders, for their commitment to engage with the Government and Respect@Work Council as we work together to create safe, gender-equal and inclusive workplaces.

The evidence is clear – a safe and harassment-free workplace is also a more productive workplace.

To the Sex Discrimination Commissioner – thank you for continuing to lead and advise on action to address workplace sexual harassment. Your robust work on this critically important issue is the reason we have a comprehensive plan for reform.

I also want to thank the members of the Respect@Work Council for the work that they have done and the work that they are going to do to support the implementation of the recommendations in the Respect@Work report in full.

I would also like to reiterate the commitment of the whole government – including the Minister for Women, Minister for Education, Minister for Social Services, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, and the Minister for Health – as well as our counterparts in the states and territories, who are working to implement Respect@Work.

Speaking to you here today, I am confident that all Australians will benefit from these essential reforms. I look forward to working with you all to realise that ambition.

Thank you.