On Thursday, Morrison said in a news conference the government plans to amend the Sex Discrimination Act under measures designed to tackle sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. He said he hoped to pass the new laws by the end of June.
Morrison said sexual harassment was “immoral and despicable and even criminal,” and “denies Australians, especially women, not just their personal security but their economic security by not being safe at work.”
Zali Steggall, an independent federal politician and lawyer, said the proposed changes to the law were a positive step, but she called on the government to make the changes quickly.
“The longer the delay is, the longer the behavior is not caught, and this is not retrospective legislation so it needs to be passed as soon as possible,” she said.
How the loopholes were created
Australia’s Sex Discrimination Act was passed in 1984.
Gaze told CNN that under the Sex Discrimination Act, politicians and judges are not covered as they don’t fall within the areas of employment where the legislation prohibits discrimination — leaving them outside the protections of the act
Politicians’ staffers are covered under separate employment legislation, Gaze said, which doesn’t include sex discrimination protections.
Legal experts said the loopholes in the law were likely the result of outdated and poorly worded legislation, rather than an attempt to deliberately protect Australian politicians from accusations of sexual harassment.
The original law “reflected the time in which it was created,” President of the Law Council of Australia, Dr. Jacoba Brasch, said in a statement. “Australian culture and attitudes have moved on, and the SDA needs to be updated to reflect the contemporary expectations of the public,” she said.
Steggall said the loopholes had first been identified during an inquiry in the Australian Senate in 2008 but had taken more than a decade to fix, with blame falling on “all sides of politics for failing to act.”
What’s in the amendments?
Morrison said Thursday he would adopt all 55 of the recommendations made by the commissioner, including a blanket ban on sex discrimination in the workplace and a national survey every four years to check on progress.
The government’s proposed amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act would also make it clearer for employers and employees on what constitutes gender discrimination, and give complainants longer to file.
But despite Morrison’s June timelime, Steggall said she had drafted new laws that were ready to be introduced once Parliament resumes in May.
Her legislation would close the loopholes in the Sex Discrimination Act and sexual harassment in all circumstances, she said. The law would also penalize organizations or political parties that aid or abet in the crime.
Brasch said the success of any legislation introduced by the Morrison government would depend on how the new laws were worded, to erase any “ambiguity” in the legislation and ensure public servants were “personally liable” for sexual harassment.
“(This is) key to ensuring that (the problem) is appropriately addressed, and that problematic conduct does not fall into regulatory gaps,” she said.