Let me start off by being very clear: there is simply no place for sexual harassment of any kind in any workplace. It doesn't matter if you work for the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition, an ASX 100 listed company or a fledgling startup, a school or a university, a hospital or the morgue, a coffee shop or a pub, a factory or a farm, a local fish-and-chip shop or an international burger restaurant. There is no place for sexual harassment of any kind in any workplace. You should not have to face any form of sexual harassment while you are at work. That is why the Albanese government will deliver and fully implement every recommendation on the Respect@Work report, something the Morrison government, shockingly, refused to do. This is what the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022, before the 47th Parliament, will deliver. I should point out that recommendation 28 is being progressed by the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, and we in fact dealt with that earlier today.
Over the past five years, one in three people have experienced sexual harassment at work and, in not-quite-breaking news, women experience much higher rates of harassment than men. First Nations people, people with a disability and members of the LGBTQ+ community are also, on average, more likely to experience workplace sexual harassment. Everyone has the right to a safe and respectful workplace—everyone. The fact that workplaces have not been safe or respectful for so many Australians is completely unacceptable this century. I will say it again: one in three people over the last five years have experienced sexual harassment at work. That is such a truly shocking figure. Sexual harassment is by no means inevitable, and the passage of this bill will move Australia forward in our efforts to prevent workplace sexual harassment from happening in the first place.
This bill, like our first Labor budget, is also part of our important work to progress gender equality, recognising that achieving women's economic equality includes making sure women are safe at work. A national survey conducted in 2018 noted that the most commonly reported types of behaviour were sexually suggestive comments or jokes, intrusive questions about private lives, or inappropriate commentary on a person's physical appearance. Other common actions faced, mainly by women, included repeated invitations to go on dates, sexually explicit pictures, posters, or gifts, inappropriate leering, sexual gestures, indecent exposure, inappropriate physical contact and sexual harassment involving technology.
These sorts of behaviours and actions just do not have a place in modern workplaces. This isn't an episode of Mad Men or a workplace from 60 or 70 years ago where this behaviour was tolerated and often encouraged. Remember that each victim's experience of workplace sexual harassment is unique and influenced by a range of factors. We must be aware and understanding of these. This is worth remembering in your own workplace.
This bill is a significant milestone in delivering on yet another commitment from the Albanese government that we made at the last election. We said to the Australian people that there would be a suite of reforms, and they are now contained in this bill. They are critical for ensuring safe, respectful and more equitable workplaces for all Australians. This bill will significantly strengthen and clarify the legal and regulatory frameworks related to sexual harassment in Australia.
One of the key frameworks in this bill is the introduction of a positive duty for employers and persons conducting a business or an undertaking to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sexual harassment and related conduct as far as possible. That is so that responsibility resides with those in power. The assessment and enforcing compliance of this new framework will be provided by the Australian Human Rights Commission, within the Sex Discrimination Act. This was recommendation 19 of the Respect@Work report, and it also outlined that the Australian Human Rights Commission should be given powers to require the giving of information, the production of documents and the examination of witnesses, with penalties applying for non-compliance when conducting such inquiries. Recommendation 18 also outlines the measures on what is reasonable and proportionate and some of the factors considered by the commission, such as: the size of the person's business and operations, the nature and circumstances of the person's business or operations, the person's resources, the person's business and operational priorities, the practicability and the cost of the measures, and all other relevant facts and circumstances. We do need one size to fit all, but you've just got to have that individual variation.
Before the men's rights groups work themselves into a lather, I will point out that the Australian Human Rights Commission will treat a small corner store differently to a large, well-resourced multinational company. Nevertheless, at the core of this positive duty, is the need to put this issue front and centre of a business owner's mind. The responsibility resides with those who are in power in the workplace. I'm sure that all in the 47th parliament, be they new arrivals or old hands, will want all employers to stamp out that sort of abhorrent behaviour before it starts. The best way to stop certain behaviour is to be proactive and make sure it doesn't happen in the first place.
This bill will also replace the object clause inserted by the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021, which stated that an object of the act is to achieve equality of opportunity between men and women with an object to achieve substantive equality between men and women, which was actually recommendation 16 (a) of the Respect@Work report. Words are important. This is why this change is also important and directly reflects one of the recommendations from the [email protected] report. It's important that workplaces are required to take into account individual circumstances and that disadvantages are compensated for, so that the law has equal outcomes for everyone, whether you are a woman, a man or non-binary. This concept is crucial in the workplace. It will also ensure that the provisions relating to sex based harassment in the Sex Discrimination Act extend to conduct of a demeaning nature and not just conduct of a seriously demeaning nature; expressly prohibit conduct that results in a hostile workplace environment on the basis of sex in the Sex Discrimination Act; and will remove residual barriers to enable representative bodies to continue to represent complaints in the Federal Court. It was noted within the [email protected] report that it was crucial that unions and other representative groups be able to bring representative claims to court, delivering consistency to the existing provisions in the Australian Human Rights Commission Act that allow unions and other representative groups to bring a representative claim to the commission.
The bill will insert a costs protection provision in the Australian Human Rights Commission Act to provide greater certainty to parties during court proceedings in relation to costs. It noted in the report that one of the barriers stopping people from pursuing a sexual harassment matter in the federal jurisdiction is the risk of a costs order. This is an important inclusion as we want those affected by sexual harassment to not stop and think about whether it's worth taking further action or not based on the financial implications for them. A society that prevents access to justice because of costs is not actually a truly just society. We want people to know that, if they're victims of sexual harassment at work, they can pursue matters federally, which will now be consistent with the Fair Work Act.
It will also ensure that Commonwealth public sector organisations are also required to report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency on its gender equality indicators. If you can't measure it, you can't see progress. As a government we want to make sure our departments are places where staff don't have to face sexual discrimination in any form. This addition will make sure each department gender equality indicator is scrutinised and can be used as a key driver for change.
Other changes the bill will make are in relation to a number of other amendments arising from changes made by the previous government's respect at work act 2021. This will provide greater consistency across the Commonwealth antidiscrimination framework and achieve the intended outcomes outlined in the [email protected] report. Included in these changes is clarification that victimising conduct can form the basis of a civil action for unlawful discrimination under all Commonwealth antidiscrimination acts and not just the Sex Discrimination Act. This will ensure that a discrimination complaint can only be terminated for delay by the president of the commission if it is made more than 24 months after the alleged unlawful conduct took place.
The Attorney-General and his department have done an excellent job in terms of consulting with unions, business groups and a range of other interested organisations when drafting this bill. Included in discussions were the [email protected] Council members including the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Fair Work Commission, the Fair Work Ombudsman, Safe Work Australia, workplace safety authorities, workers compensation authorities, the Australian Council of Human Rights Agencies, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, the Kingsford Legal Centre, JobWatch and the Ai Group. Other organisations consulted included the Business Council of Australia; the Australian Institute of Company Directors; the CPSU; the SDA; Diversity Council Australia; the National Women's Safety Alliance; the national Working Women's Centres; Community Legal Centres Australia, who do incredible work; the Law Council of Australia; the Australian Women Lawyers; the Australian Discrimination Law Experts Group; the AFP; ASIO; and the Office of National Intelligence—to name but a few.
Lastly, I want to personally thank all victims-survivors who came forward to share their stories and to inform the [email protected] report. I hope that this legislation is something you can be proud of, despite the circumstances leading up to you coming forward. I recommend this bill to the House.