Published: 19/07/2021
Category: On The Job
Published: 19/07/2021
Category: On The Job

When Brittany Higgins decided to tell the world about her experience of being raped at Parliament House by a trusted work colleague, it pulled the veil back on the true nature of gendered violence and the pervasiveness of sexual assault in this country.

If it could happen inside the walls of Parliament House, then perpetrators clearly feel they can operate anywhere.

Higgins unflinching bravery, honesty and dignity would surely be the catalyst for a reckoning on this issue, right?

Surely, the instinctive and genuine outpouring of anger and support from millions of Australian women, including those also subject to various forms of sexual harassment and violence, would reverberate around the nation? Surely this shared outrage would drive a determination to hold perpetrators to account and put the blowtorch to systemic cultures of male entitlement and toxic masculinity?

Remember, this is the Morrison Government, where spin and rhetoric always trump truth and accountability.

This week, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is appearing at the Senate inquiry into the Morrison Government’s proposed changes to the Fair Work and Sex Discrimination Acts, following on from the [email protected] report.

ACTU President Michele O’Neil is scathing about the Morrison Government’s lack of commitment to implementing the report.

“Kate Jenkins handed down her [email protected] report back in January 2020, and the Morrison Government put it in a drawer for 14 months. Without Brittany Higgins and a long list of brave women coming forward, it is unlikely that the Morrison Government would have acted at all,” O’Neil said.

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus and ACTU President Michelle O’Neil joined by fellow activists at the March 4 Justice rally in Canberra earlier this year

“Prime Minister Morrison publicly said that he would “accept” all 55 of the [email protected] recommendations – and then quietly ignored the recommendations that are essential to prevent harassment and create safer workplaces.”

The report, which was delivered long before Higgins’ revelations, made no bones about how deeply entrenched the issues of gender discrimination and sexual harassment is in Australian workplaces.

“Workplace sexual harassment is prevalent and pervasive: it occurs in every industry, in every location and at every level, in Australian workplaces. Australians across the country are suffering the financial, social, emotional, physical, and psychological harm associated with sexual harassment. This is particularly so for women,” the report stated.

“The results of the fourth national survey conducted by the Commission in 2018, Everyone’s Business: Fourth survey on sexual harassment in Australian workplaces (the 2018 National Survey) have informed the Commission’s findings as part of this Inquiry.

“The 2018 National Survey provides a clear picture of the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. The results indicate that 33% of people who had been in the workforce in the previous five years said they had experienced workplace sexual harassment.  Women (39%) were more likely than men (26%) to have experienced workplace sexual harassment in this period,” according to the report.

The numbers don’t lie, and Brittany Higgins searing testimony confirms it – Australia needs urgent and decisive action on this issue.

The [email protected] report delivered 55 recommendations to the Morrison Government. The Government’s response? Like everything else it does, to pick and choose to suit itself.

The ACTU is demanding the Morrison Government accept and act on a series of key recommendations in the report that would dramatically improve the welfare and safety of all women at work, including.

  • A clear prohibition on sexual harassment in the Fair Work Act and a new complaints mechanism – instead, the Government has proposed a ‘stop sexual harassment order that is a weaker mechanism that does not provide compensation to complainants.
  •  Positive duties to be placed on employers to eliminate sexual harassment to be included in the Sex Discrimination Act. Women will not be safe at work if employers only react to sexual harassment and do not prevent it.
  •  Powers for the Sex Discrimination Commissioner to initiate their own inquiries. This must be with enforcement powers to stop sexual discrimination and harassment.
  • The Sex Discrimination Act should be amended to ensure the objects include “to achieve substantive equality between women and men”. The Government is currently proposing a weaker formulation.
  • To promote access to justice for victims, the Parliament should amend the Australian Human Rights Commission Act to allow unions and other representative groups to bring representative claims to court; and to limit cost orders to complainants who act without reasonable cause.

Just as importantly, the union moment is urging the Government to grant access to 10 days of Family and Domestic Violence Leave for all workers through National Employment Standards.

“One in three workplaces already have paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave – it’s time that the Federal Government stepped in to ensure that all workers are supported if they need to flee violence,” said Michele O’Neil

 “The Morrison Government has failed to adopt crucial recommendations for a clear prohibition on sexual harassment in the Fair Work Act and a new complaints mechanism and a positive duty on employers in the Sex Discrimination Act. These are essential to addressing the systemic issue of sexual harassment and gendered violence in the workplace. “

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit

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Time to act on Respect @ Work

Time to act on Respect @ Work