Press Conference - Parliament House

Release Date: 
20 June 2018
Transcript
E&OE

KELLY O'DWYER: 

Good Morning. Hello, my name is Kelly O'Dwyer, I am the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services and also the Minister for Women and today I'm delighted to be joined by Kate Jenkins, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner of the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Australian women have the right to be safe in their home, in their workplace and in their communities. That's why the Turnbull Government is supporting practical action to address sexual harassment today by announcing that it will contribute $500,000 towards the Australian Human Rights Commission's national inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace, to be led by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins.

No person should have to deal with or suffer from sexual harassment in the workplace or in any other part of their lives. The national inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace is the first of its kind in the world. The inquiry will consider the drivers of sexual harassment in the Australian workplace and it will provide practical recommendations.

If anything, the ‘MeToo’ movement has highlighted the prevalence and the detrimental impact of sexual harassment on individuals and on organisations. With technological advances this century, our world has dramatically changed. It's therefore appropriate that the inquiry will consider the role that social media now plays in sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment has very real personal but also economic consequences for individuals. For a woman it may mean that she doesn't have a job any longer, it may make it harder for her to get the next job. She may be denied a promotion or denied extra hours at work. It goes to the heart of her financial security. But it also has substantial impacts for workplaces too, including reduced productivity, high staff turnover, absenteeism, compensation claims and early retirement. The inquiry will consider economic modelling that look at these costs both to individuals and also to the workplace more generally because it costs all of the economy when women and men are sexually harassed in the workplace.

We know though that the overwhelming majority of sexual harassment victims are women, and this inquiry is a very positive and very meaningful step towards ensuring the respect of women in our workplace. This is the right time to conduct a national inquiry. It will be a positive and a meaningful step in reducing sexual harassment at work and ensuring that where it does occur it will be dealt with carefully and appropriately.

Each year, sexual harassment in the workplace is one of the most common types of complaint received by the Australian Human Rights Commission under the Sex Discrimination Act and I think it's appropriate at this point to hand to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner to say a few words about her very significant inquiry. 

KATE JENKINS: 

Thank you. Thank you Minister and good morning everyone. I'd like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

In recent months, many women and men have come forward to publicly tell their stories of sexual harassment in the workplace, shining a light on this issue, both in Australia and across the world. These personal accounts have made clear the devastating impact sexual harassment can have on individual lives as well as a significant cost to business and the community.

This spotlight on sexual harassment has turned the tide and created a clear and unprecedented appetite for change.

I'm delighted that the Australian Human Rights Commission will be undertaking this national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces and I commend the Australian Government for their decision to fund this work. Over the course of the next year we will speak to individuals and organisations from all over Australia about their experiences. We will consider the economic impact of sexual harassment, the drivers of these behaviours and the adequacy of the existing legal framework. We will do this by analysing our 2018 sexual harassment survey results by undertaking national consultations, inviting public submissions and undertaking in-depth research on sexual harassment.

Anyone who wants to make an individual complaint of sexual harassment can contact the Commission separately through our complaints service which is separate to this inquiry.

We will release our fourth workplace sexual harassment survey results in August. Early indications from that survey are that sexual harassment in the workplace has increased since 2012, making this inquiry even more important for workplaces wanting to do better.

Through the inquiry we will identify examples of good practice and will make recommendations for change, providing a way forward to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. This national inquiry is an Australian, and we believe a world first, in responding to the issue of workplace sexual harassment.

Now is the time to work together to create a society which is safe and respectful and where sexual harassment at work is no longer something that people simply have to put up with. I believe this national inquiry is a huge step in the right direction. Thank you.

KELLY O'DWYER:

Excellent, so we're going to open to questions. Obviously, we'll take questions on this specific issue and once we've dealt with those if there are some additional questions for me I'll ask Kate to not have to be here for that and I'm happy to take a few extra questions. 

JOURNALIST: 

When will the inquiry report back?

KATE JENKINS: 

So we've planned 12 months and it will start whilst it's starting immediately the intention would be August or September of next year.

JOURNALIST: 

Commissioner, you just mentioned that the early results of the survey showed there's been an increase in harassment in the workplace over the last four or five years, is that, that can't just be due to a higher female participation rate, that must be a cultural issue do you think?

KATE JENKINS: 

The national inquiry will really examine that in much greater depth, but it does seem that it is not simply because there is a higher awareness of sexual harassment. It does seem that there is actually an increase in the prevalence. So that really suggests that a national inquiry with some better solutions is really important right now. We know workplaces have been putting in place policies and procedures but we’re at a point where that's obviously not having the effect.

JOURNALIST: 

Without pre-empting the outcome of the inquiry what do you, and Minister you as well, what do you think is actually driving that backwards cultural issue?

KATE JENKINS:

I think the inquiry is going to exactly some of the things that are going to tell us the solution. I think it will tell us more about the prevalence of sexual harassment in particular industries. So this time, for the first time, we're looking at the specific nature rather than just broadly pretending what happens in banking is the same as what happens in a television studio. So I think that's relevant. I think we have changes in our society in terms of digital technologies, social media, how that's used in the workplace and in our lives broadly. I also think that there are questions about the culture in our workplace, and in our society, attitudes to women and respect, and I think that's really coming in to the fore. I think people really want to learn about that. And the last thing I think will be important is to review the laws, to look at what they've done well, but also where they perhaps have not produced the results that we want and see how that might be done differently. 

KELLY O'DWYER:

I think that's obviously your answer, but can I just add a couple of additional points. There are more women in the workplace than ever before. More women working. That is a good thing. Because that means, for all those woman who are working, they are earning an income which means that they are able to build their financial security, their economic security. More women working means that we've got women who are saving as well for their retirement. We want to make sure that there aren't barriers to women being fully engaged in the workforce because it does go, ultimately, to their economic security. This is one of the reasons we believe, as a government, that this is such an important issue. And I think it's no accident that I'm not only the Minister for Women but I'm also the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, so I wear two hats in this, understanding the economic impact that this can have both individually, for women in particular but also to our economy more broadly.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, in your announcement you referenced the ‘Me Too’ movement, and that movement has exposed all sorts of instances of sexual harassment and even sexual assault in a whole heap of industries globally, including politics. Can I ask, have you ever been sexually harassed during your time as a female MP and have you heard or are you aware of other females MPs or female staff in this building being sexually harassed?

KELLY O'DWYER:

I'm not going to talk about me because today's actually not about me, today is about millions of Australian women, it's not about me in particular. But let me just make a few reflections on the ‘Me Too’ movement. Certainly I think the ‘Me Too’ movement has been very powerful in shining light on sexual harassment. And I think, in that way, it's done us a great service in being able to bring to the fore, these very important issues. There are, however, other issues that have come about as a result of social media and the ‘Me Too’ movement, where victims or complainants have been exposed and those people who are the subject of a complaint have also been exposed. And I think we need to look at that soberly and carefully and deal with that very sensitively. And that's one of the reasons I actually think that this inquiry is so critically important. We've seen a change in the way that we have this conversation. I think it's very important for workplaces to be able to have the toolkit that they need to appropriately respond to complaints. Not everybody wants to end up in court, in fact, I would suggest to you most people don't. Most people want to be able to get on with their lives. In fact, most people wanted to simply work in a safe workplace where they're not sexually harassed.

JOURNALIST:

But Minister, you, you've got a lot of deserved credit for some of your work around female representation in politics. Don't you think, as the Minister for Women, for you to say to the public that you've experienced this as well, and this is unacceptable, is something that might actually help women who might be sexually harassed?

KELLY O'DWYER:

Well, lest there be any doubt, I think it's very clear that violence against women, sexual harassment of women, women not being able to be safe in their workplaces, in their homes, or in their communities, that is not acceptable. I want to be absolutely clear on that point. But also don't think that this is about me. This is about millions of Australian women and I don't want to distract from the important work that the Sex Discrimination Commissioner will do on this important issue of sexual harassment. I want the focus to be on this issue and the impact that it has for so many women who are going about their lives, trying to get on with their lives, and make sure that they are supported in their workplace environment.

JOURNALIST:

So on politics generally, with the exception of some allegations made against the former Deputy Prime Minister, Australian politics has sort of escaped a lot of the allegations that have been had in the UK and the US particularly. Do you both really think that Australian politics is that different from those other countries, that that sort of behaviour isn't occurring here, or is it the case that we're not hearing about it?

KELLY O'DWYER:

So the point I make is that the Australian Parliament is a workplace like every other workplace. This inquiry will have the opportunity to look at workplaces across the board and whether there are systemic issues, whether there are problems within these workplaces and what are the practical solutions. I mean let’s be clear, we don't just want to simply examine the problem, we want practical solutions to those problems. We want take this issue further and I think this is where the work that Kate is doing is so critically important, not only nationally in Australia, but also internationally. I think that will be a lot of international focus on this inquiry, Kate, and I think others will look and learn from it.

JOURNALIST:

Commissioner can you just give us an example, a practical example, of the social media, the fear that you have around social media and how that's actually exacerbating harassment in the workplace?

KATE JENKINS:

Yes, our sexual harassment survey, this iteration, which is the fourth one over a period of 15 years, has for the first time specifically asked about the experience of sexual harassment through digital means, including social media and images that might be spread that would constitute sexual harassment. So we will get, for the first time, some really clear data on what the experience is. In my career as a corporate lawyer, who specialised in discrimination and sexual harassment, over time the use of, even back when email was introduced, but going over time, the use of digital means of phones to harass people in work and outside of work has become an increasing problem and we also see that in the family violence space as well. So the spotlight on this is really to understand what is the nature and is it giving people access to harass and stalk people through digital means in additional ways. But we will also be looking at what is the general, I mean we're not naïve, we're not going to stop use of digital media, there has been a lot of work on improving it, but we will also look at what are the implications when complaints are raised, when they are aired in the media, mainstream or digital, what's the impact, is that helpful, is that not helpful. I think the answer to those will help us as we move into the new working world that we are all moving towards.

KELLY O’DWYER:

Can I just pick up on that too to say that the Turnbull Government has done something that no other government around the world has done in the creation of the e-safety Commissioner. Julie has done very important work in setting up an office where we actually focus on these issues and make sure that people can be safer online, particularly women and girls online, and Kate and I and Julie, and those in the digital sector have actually sat down for discussions about these very issues. We believe that there is more work that can be done. Obviously, we have passed a significant amount of legislation already holding people to account a lot more readily, making sure that victims are not blamed and that their images are not shared online where they have not been consensual images that have been put up there without their authority. I mean, these are just some of the things that we have been doing as a government, as well as focusing very strongly on safety of women. I want to pay tribute to my predecessor Michaelia Cash who, with the Prime Minister, in the very first announcement that they made was around the $100 million women's safety package. Now, the Turnbull Government has committed over $300 million to women's safety initiatives. We believe so strongly in this issue, we believe it is absolutely critical for women to be safe in their home, in their workplace and in their communities and this is, I think, a natural next step. 

JOURNALIST:

In terms of policy responses to this problem, obviously sexual assault carries a whole range of criminal penalties, should criminal penalties for sexual harassment be on the table here? 

KELLY O’DWYER:

I'm not going to prejudge what Kate… (interrupted)

JOURNALIST:

But do you think that should be something that should be an option to respond to the problem? 

KELLY O’DWYER:

I actually want us to have a sober and thorough review. It's an independent inquiry that Kate is conducting. I'm not going to prejudge it, and I am very, very interested in the findings that she will ultimately come out with, whether they be early findings, whether there are learnings along the way, and ultimately with the final recommendations that are made. So I'm not going to prejudge that.

JOURNALIST:

Commissioner, are you prepared to recommend criminal penalties if you think that is appropriate? 

KATE JENKINS: 

We will most definitely consider all options in terms of the legal avenues. We know that both the laws are really important that underpin this, but also there are other initiatives that need to happen as well, so we will look for best practice. But we would absolutely consider that as one of the options.

JOURNALIST: 

Minister, if I can ask you on another topic – as the Government is constantly talking about job creation, does the loss of 8,000 Telstra jobs mark your message?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Well look, I think today is a very, very sad day for many people who work for Telstra, and for their families, and I think it's important to say that our hearts go out to those people who will have heard this news this morning. We have only heard just heard this news as well, so I'm looking forward to a briefing in relation to those matters. But on the whole the Government has actually had very good economic data. Clearly today we've heard some very bad news, specifically related to Telstra, and of course that's going to have a tremendous impact on many people's lives, and so I think we should just reflect on that and the impact it will have on them. 

JOURNALIST:

How do you think customers and consumers are going to respond to that announcement? Because there's incredible frustration at the Telco's and the service they provide already without shedding 8,000 jobs on top of that?

KELLY O’DWYER:

Look, I'm not going to get into a commentary on Telstra and I'm sure the Employment Minister will have perhaps more to say on this, as will the Treasurer. Consumers will do what consumers do at the end of the day and they will respond in a way that they think is appropriate. But it's a very sad day for those people who have lost their jobs, it's a sad day for their families, and I think we should understand that there will be a lot of people who are very deeply impacted by this. Thank you very much.

JOURNALIST:

Just one more question Minister – just related to the previous topic. You put your money where your mouth is around female representation, you put your own money into a fund, can you just update us on… (interrupted)

KELLY O’DWYER:

My own fundraised money I should say. I don't want anybody to think that I've got really deep, deep pockets personally on these sorts of things.

JOURNALIST: 

Can you just give us an update on how successful that endeavour is in terms of how much money you have raised to date and where you are spending it? 

KELLY O’DWYER:

So just to explain what we are doing, as many people know the very first woman elected to the House of Representatives was Dame Enid Lyons she's a Liberal Party success story. In fact, we have had so many firsts, and in fact if you actually consider the figures of Liberal women who have served at the very highest levels of government, and Coalition women as well, there have been more who have served around the Cabinet table than political opponents. Of the 24 women who have served around the Cabinet table, out of 385, the majority have actually come from the Coalition side of politics. Having said that, there is always room improvement, and that's true, I think, of all political organisations, frankly. The one thing I've tried to do is put together a practical measure that I think will help women who are currently in the Parliament who we want to see re-elected to the Parliament, who are Liberal women, by providing them with some financial backing and we've formed the Dame Enid Lyons Fighting Fund to be able to do that, and also to get those women who are standing for winnable seats into the Parliament. There has been a very good and strong and positive response, and the money will go towards those women who are in the Parliament right now to keep them there, and those women who are looking to run for winnable seats for the Liberal Party to make sure that they can get there. Thanks very much. 

[ends]