Launch of the Australian Human Rights Commission report into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces

Release Date: 
6 March 2020

Minister Payne:

Good afternoon everyone and thank you very much for the opportunity to be here today. I’d like to acknowledge the commissioners of the Australian Human Rights Commission in their multiplicity. Thank you very much for hosting and for being here with this opportunity to comment with Kate Jenkins on the release of the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces.

Let me start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet here today and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. And I want to make a few comments, if I may, about the inquiry, and then I'm sure the Sex Discrimination Commissioner will have much to add. I've actually just seen the full tome, and if she adds all that detail we may be here for some time. Just saying.

But there are a number of important comments to make, because this is a world-first inquiry looking into the nature, the prevalence, these drivers of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. The Government will carefully consider the report and its 55 recommendations. The Attorney-General and I will work with colleagues to put together a considered government response. The report does raise some quite complex issues across various legal and regulatory frameworks, so that is a matter that does require obviously cross-government and, in fact, cross-jurisdiction consideration. As a government, we are committed to making all Australian workplaces safe and free from sexual harassment.

So we welcome the opportunity to consider this extensive report to assist in that process.

It is indeed a most basic right to feel safe and comfortable in one's workplace. I think the eve of International Women's Day is a good time to note the importance of gender equality, not least because in driving for gender equality, we're also addressing endemic problems such as sexual harassment.

We do need women in senior positions and in influential positions, because role models and leaders are vital to ensuring positive behaviour flows through organisations.

To bring about workplace cultural change, we also need to affirm the importance of respect. I want to take this opportunity, again noting International Women's Day on Sunday, to talk about our duty as a society to ensure that we respect each other, that Australian men grow up respecting the women in their lives. Changing attitudes is fundamental to improving the culture within our workplaces and, in so many ways, that starts with respect.

The report makes clear that as well as a moral imperative, there is also a clear economic rationale for addressing sexual harassment. The modelling carried out by Deloitte Access Economics to inform the report is notable. In 2018, it advises us, workplace sexual harassment cost the Australian economy $3.8 billion.

When women feel safe and valued, they're free to pursue their potential. They’re free to participate fully in civic and social and economic life. That is good for the economy and for the nation.

Another key finding in the report is what might be described as a culture of silence around sexual harassment in the workplace. It is concerning that fewer than one in five sexual harassment victims make a complaint. Of those who do, nearly half said that nothing changed as a consequence. It's important to note today that the states and territories and, importantly, the private sector all have a role to play when it comes to responding to these recommendations.

The federal government has been addressing this issue directly and seriously through our existing Fourth Action Plan, the national initiative to reduce violence against women and their children. One of the five national priorities of the Fourth Action Plan includes responses to sexual violence and sexual harassment. There are measures that are already in place to provide training for sexual violence responses within workplaces.

As Australia's Minister for Women, I take these recommendations very seriously and I'm committed to ensuring that sexual harassment is eradicated from workplaces in this country. As we look forward to International Women's Day, I warmly welcome this report as a valuable contribution to addressing what is clearly a stubborn problem in some Australian workplaces.

Also, I want to acknowledge my friend and former colleague Kelly O'Dwyer. Kelly O'Dwyer's leadership in initiating this inquiry was vital, and I thank her for that. I want to thank our Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, and the staff of the commission who assisted with bringing this inquiry to its fruition.

I particularly want to thank those people, those men and women – overwhelmingly women – who have told their stories to make this report a reality.

Never underestimate how difficult that is to do it. Never underestimate how difficult it is to challenge harassment in the workplace, to challenge some societal norms that we seek to change through gender equality. Never underestimate the value of what you have said to enable this report to be brought together. Let me hand over to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner and look forward to discussing this further.