Freedomroo – Scott Morrison says MPs will be covered by new workplace sexual harassment laws

Employee takes cheeky gibe at CEO Christine Holgate

Lecherous MPs and judges who grope their staff and sexually harass their colleagues will be hit with new workplace laws for the first time.

For years the sexual harassment laws that have governed Australian workplaces have not applied to politicians and judges.

But the Prime Minister confirmed on Thursday that is all about to change allowing staff and colleagues to lodge complaints with the Fair Work Commission.

“Everyone has a right to be safe at work. Sexual harassment must be prohibited in the workplace,’’ Scott Morrison said.

But he can’t say yet what the consequences will be if an MP is found to have sexually harassed someone at work – noting that MPs cannot be sacked for serious misconduct – because they are elected to Parliament by voters.

“There are many issues that we’re still going to work through as we draft this legislation,’’ he said.

“The recommendations are not, I’d say, granular when it comes to the drafting in many of those provisions and how those matters are worked through. What’s important, though, is the principle that is established and that MPs and that is judges, but we’re also going to be taking up the recommendation that state public servants are not exempt from these arrangements.

“You’re right to note that members of Parliament find themselves in a different situation because of the nature of how we come to be in these jobs.

“We have one boss, and that is the Australian people who elect us, and that is a process that we’ll have to work through carefully in the drafting.

“We’ll be subject to the same law as anybody else which means you’ll be subject to the same consequences. Somebody can bring a complaint against you to the Commission. That complaint can be looked at. If it is upheld, it will be upheld.”

Asked again what the consequences would be, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash implied voters would take action.

“I think there would be consequences for any members of Parliament themselves who is found to have breached the Sexual Discrimination Act. I think the people themselves would speak,’’ she said.

Speaking today after the first meeting of the new women’s cabinet taskforce, the Prime Minister announced he will act on all of the recommendations in the Respect at Work report from Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. It was first handed to the Morrison Government a year ago with the PM blaming COVID-19 for the delay in taking action.

But the bombshell announcement was that the changes will extend sexual harassment laws to cover lawyers and judges for the first time.

Senator Cash said there would also be changes to the terms of employment for parliamentary staffers.

“For example, we will amend the definition of serious misconduct in the Fair Work regulations to include sexual harassment. We will also clarify that sexual harassment can be a ground, or a valid reason for dismissal,’’ she said.

“I think we’ll draw a package of legislative reforms this year and whether that can be done in time for the budget sittings, that is – that would be our goal to do that before the end of June to introduce that, but it’s important, I think, with such sensitive legislation that we engage with the drafting of that legislation that we consult on that.”

The Prime Minister was also asked if the new laws would “ban flirting” in the workplace.

“I think they’re practical questions and highlight the complexity of this issue,’’ he said.

Mr Morrison said a public information campaign may be required so that people can start to “sort in their own minds what’s OK.”

“We’ve got to have these conversations and people need to understand in our own workplaces what is OK, what’s not OK. People just want to know,’’ he said.

“I think in many cases, we’re dealing with unconscious behaviour and we want to help inform that behaviour and I think people will happily change their behaviour if they were aware that some of their unconscious acts could be leading to that sense of hurt or dismissal with their fellow Australians.

“In other cases it’s malevolent, in other cases it’s predatory. In other cases, it’s violent and I think those – those lines are a lot clearer and I think what we’re doing here today brings further force to deal particularly with those types of behaviours.”

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