Your 3-Min Explainer On The Govt’s Buzzword-Heavy (But Big) Response To Sexual Harassment

sexual harassment response

Not long after being excoriated (repeatedly) for its handling of alleged sexual assault in the workplace, the Morrison Government has unveiled its official response to a sexual harassment report a year after it was released. From the “reservoir of respect” to the “Roadmap for Respect”, here’s what you need to know about it.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the changes on Thursday morning as part of the government’s response to the Respect@Work report, which it received in January 2020.

What is the Respect@Work report?

Back in June 2018, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins and the then Minister for Women, Kelly O’Dwyer, announced the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces.

The goal: to provide recommendations to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace.

The report “overwhelmingly” found that the current system in place for addressing workplace sexual harassment in Australia is “complex and confusing” for victims and employers to understand and navigate.

“It also places a heavy burden on individuals to make a complaint,” the report read.

Altogether, the report came up with 55 recommendations, which emphasised prevention and support over reactionary measures. It also recommended that the Fair Work Act clarify that sexual harassment can be a valid reason for dismissal and that ‘serious misconduct’ in the workplace should include sexual harassment.

Again, this report was published in January 2020 and was made available to the public in March of that year.

You can read the full report online HERE.

What recommendations did the Morrison Government accept?

The Morrison Government has agreed wholly to, in part, in principle, or noted all 55 recommendations in the report. This includes amending the Sex Discrimination Act to ensure the current exemption of state public servants (politicians and lawyers) is removed.

As Reuters reported, public servants are currently exempt from complaints about sexual harassment because they are “technically not the complainant’s employer.”

Morrison said scrapping the exempt “is about getting everybody as much on the level playing field as possible.”

He also called the report a “game changer”.

“It is changing the very narrative that will drive the appropriate actions needed right across governments and across our society,” Morrison said. “We believe our response, A Roadmap for Respect, will do the same thing.”

More on that in a tick.

The prime minister said the government’s response is about “creating a culture of respectful behaviour in Australian workplaces.”

“Stop it before it starts,” he said.

Morrison later added that it’s very “important to say it all starts with disrespect.” He really put a lot of emphasis on respect actually, whether that was the “reservoir of respect”, or the “well of respect”, that he fears is currently being “drained” in Australia.

Twitter has lit up with “reservoir of respect”, by the way.

And cue the roadmap.

“The Roadmap for Respect”

The roadmap is called a roadmap for a reason, it’s the Government’s “long-term commitment to building a culture of respectful relationships in Australian workplaces.”

Morrison said the response is based on the Government’s values of respect, dignity, choice, equality of opportunity, and justice.

“That is what we are seeking to achieve to stop sexual harassment in those workplaces, so Australians can be safe at work,” he said.

The five key principles of the response is as follows:

  1. Everyone has the right to be safe at work;
  2. Policy should be evidence-based;
  3. Prevention must be our focus;
  4. Simplicity and clarity makes the law easier for Australians to understand and access;
  5. Laws must be consistent with broader legal frameworks and fundamental legal principles.

Morrison and his ministers will finalise the response in mid-May

You can find the response, which goes over the 55 recommendations, HERE.

What now?

After how Morrison and his government handled the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins this year, who’s to say if change will come.

It’s worth noting that Morrison was joined today by his new Attorney-General and the Minister for Industrial Relations, Senator Michaelia Cash.

His old Attorney-General Christian Porter, who now handles the Industry and Science portfolio, was dumped from his senior ministerial position after he named himself as the Cabinet Minister accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in 1988.

On Thursday, hours after Morrison fronted the media, it was reported that Porter’s accuser had asked NSW Police to conduct an interview, via Skype.

NSW Parliament revealed the woman had contacted detectives from Strikeforce Wyndarra on April 1, 2020 to ask for the Skype interview, as an in-person interview had been delayed due to the pandemic.

According to the ABC, both the accuser and the police agreed not to conduct the interview remotely.

“There were a number of reasons which led to this decision. The [alleged] victim was understanding and supportive of this decision,” NSW Parliament shared.

The accuser died by suicide in June 2020.

Porter has repeatedly denied the allegation.