Skip navigation

Speech: Equal Opportunity Amendment Bill (Second Reading)

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:09): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I rise to speak to this new Greens bill, which will take an essential and long overdue step to protect workers from sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. This is a quite simple bill, but I strongly believe that its impact will be profound. This is a bill that amends the Equal Opportunity Act to impose a positive duty on employers to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation.

Just a few weeks ago, the equal opportunity commissioner handed down the report for the review of harassment in the South Australian legal profession, with one of the recommendations calling for the South Australian parliament to amend the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 to impose a positive duty on employers to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation. Here is that bill.

This is the second Equal Opportunity Commission review into sexual harassment and discrimination in workplaces handed down this year that has made this recommendation. The report of the parliamentary review also included this recommendation. Again, that is in this year alone, but this is not a new recommendation. Last year, the Australian Human Rights Commission also recommended that employers should be obligated to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation in the workplace.

Further, on 21 June 2019, the International Labour Conference adopted the new convention and accompanying recommendation concerning the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work. That is ILO Convention 190, to be specific. A key element of ILO Convention 190 is that it encourages states to place a positive duty on employers to prevent violence and harassment in the workplace. It also obligates states to adopt laws requiring employers to take steps, commensurate with their degree of control, to prevent violence and harassment at work. I would like to note that Australia voted in favour of the ILO adopting Convention 190. We know that we have a serious problem. We know that for many the workplace is not a safe place and that they do not have adequate options for recourse. This has to change.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has found that 71 per cent of Australians have been sexually harassed at some point in their lives. This is a horrifying statistic. Report after report has told us what needs to be done to put an end to this discrimination and harassment in the workplace, and if the government will not step up—they have not stepped up—and get this done then of course the Greens will.

The behaviour described in these reports that I have mentioned is disturbing and appalling. As a parliament we have a duty to ensure that it stops. It is devastating that more has not been done and has not been done sooner, when we think about the scale of the problem and how long we have known about it. Since 2003, the Australian Human Rights Commission has conducted four periodic surveys on the national experience of sexual harassment. The most recent survey conducted in 2018 showed that sexual harassment in Australian workplaces is widespread and pervasive. One in three people experienced sexual harassment at work in the past five years.

This is a serious societal issue, and while we have seen even in this place in very recent times that sexual harassment and discrimination seem so ingrained in so many work settings, we must remember that it does not have to be the case. Workplace sexual harassment and discrimination is not inevitable, it is not acceptable and it is entirely preventable. It could not be clearer that our current legal protections are not at all fit for purpose. We must ensure that avenues for dealing with and preventing sexual harassment and discrimination are evidence based and victim focused. That is why I am introducing this bill today.

The Respect@Work report shows us in particular that in not requiring employers to prevent workplace sexual harassment, they then place a higher priority on compliance with employment and work health and safety laws than on compliance with anti-discrimination laws, which is not to say that we should not be prioritising compliance with employment and work health and safety laws but that compliance with anti-discrimination legislation is just as vitally important. After all, a discriminatory workplace is not a safe workplace.

By not imposing this positive duty on employers to prevent, as far as possible, discrimination, harassment and victimisation, what we have been doing is placing a heavy and difficult onus on the individuals experiencing that discrimination, harassment and victimisation. The onus is being placed on them to complain and take it on themselves. As we have seen highlighted clearly by the equal opportunity commissioner this year, some workplaces, such as this workplace in this very parliament, have arcane or non-existent procedures for reporting harassment, with many, many barriers in the way that actively prevent people from reporting those experiences.

We must also remember the complex and interconnected ways in which experiencing and reporting sexual harassment and discrimination can affect people. These impacts can include negative impacts on their health and wellbeing; negative impacts on their employment, both day-to-day and, of course, their career progression; and there can be significant financial consequences as well.

The impact of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination extends beyond just that individual person experiencing that harassment and discrimination. It extends to their families and their friends, it extends to bystanders, it extends to co-workers. Even just in terms of the workplace sexual harassment that affects employers through lost productivity, staff turnover, negative workplace culture, resources associated with responding to the complaints and reputational damage, surely we can do better.

It is in everyone's best interest to take proactive and preventative action against sexual harassment and discrimination. As I have said many times in this place, I am tired and I am angry, and I do not want people to continue to face the indignity of harassment and discrimination in the workplace when we know it is preventable. I know there is no silver bullet here to eliminate sexual harassment and discrimination, but I hope this bill will be an important tool in the arsenal. I commend this bill to the council.

Continue Reading

Read More

Speech: Parliamentary Committees Bill

April 12, 2024

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I rise to speak to the Parliamentary Committees Bill 2024, a bill that provides for the establishment of various parliamentary committees, defines the powers and duties of those committees, makes related amendments to various acts and repeals the Parliamentary Committees...

Read more