Sexual harassment reforms should be embraced but come after Australia “fell behind over time” on the issue, the woman who drove them says.
The government confirmed on Thursday that it had accepted all 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work report, led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, in part or in full.
It came over a year since the report was tabled, forcing Prime Minister Scott Morrison to deny it was made for political reasons following months of sexual assault scandals rocking the government.
Ms Jenkins embraced the “really positive news” on Friday but conceded the announcement had “taken a long time” to arrive.
“I think with the current momentum across our community, there’s real appetite for change,” she told Today.
“So I’m really optimistic that this might be the turning point that we need for our workplaces.”
As part of a suite of measures, sexual harassment will be considered “serious misconduct” in workplaces and listed as a legitimate grounds for dismissal.
The government will also work to subject politicians and judges to the same sexual harassment laws as the broader population, having previously been exempt.
Assistant Minister Women Amanda Stoker said the changes focused on prevention and clarifying a complaints system that was overly complex.
“I think it will deliver a much more positive workplace culture when it comes to sexual harassment,” she told the ABC.
Ms Jenkins warned Australia had “fallen behind over time” on sexual harassment since being a world leader on the issue throughout the mid-1980s.
She argued the current laws left a “huge burden” on victims of harassment by only coming into effect once a complaint had been submitted.
Ms Jenkins said she was “not going to stop talking” about shifting the onus from individuals to employers to stamp out sexual harassment.
“I think that needs to change. The government said they will continue to assess that … I will continue to raise that with them,” she said.
Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally accused the government of ignoring the report for a year until action was a political necessity.
“I have to laugh at this and it’s a rueful laugh, it’s not one of joy,” she told the ABC.
“They did not respond to (the report) until they faced multiple scandals and crises and the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins in Parliament House.
“They haven’t consulted with business. They haven‘t consulted with women’s groups.”
While she welcomed the government’s adoption of the recommendations, Ms Keneally said the announcement lacked clear legislation, reporting mechanisms or extra funding.
Mr Morrison said on Thursday he aimed to outline the government’s legislative package by the May budget.