Sexual harassment laws will now apply to Aussie MPs
Australian politicians will no longer be exempt from rules against sexual harassment at work, the conservative government announced on Thursday as it tries to quell public anger over parliamentary sex abuse scandals.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government would overhaul sexual discrimination laws to make members of parliament, judges and public servants accountable for harassing colleagues in the workplace.
“It’s about getting everyone on as much of a playing field as possible,” he said.
MPs, judges and public servants are currently exempt from anti-harassment rules, although they can still face criminal prosecution for sexual assault.
The move was in response to a “Respect@Work” report — handed down more than a year ago following a national inquiry into sexual harassment — and comes just weeks after sexual abuse allegations rocked Australia’s halls of power.
A young ex-staffer in Morrison’s Liberal Party recently went public with allegations she was raped by a colleague in Parliament House in 2019, while a senior minister was forced to deny raping a 16-year-old when they were both students in the 1980s.
Critics said the case, and the government’s apparent initial reluctance to act, have highlighted a “toxic” and sexist culture in the country’s parliament.
Attorney General Michaelia Cash said other proposed legislative changes would include classifying sexual harassment at work as “serious misconduct” and making it grounds for dismissal.
The government also plans to extend the period in which a victim can report an incident from six months to two years.
The Respect@Work report was drawn up by the government’s own sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins, and Morrison has been under growing criticism for failing to act on its 55 recommendations since it was submitted in January 2020.
He rejected that yesterday, saying his government had already committed to funding several recommendations it felt were high priority.
“Last year, we were very focused on those very urgent needs to protect women at a time when they were very vulnerable during COVID,” he said.