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Coalition open to sex harassment changes

·2-min read

The Morrison government is open to bolstering laws making it clear employers have a duty to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins made the recommendation in her report Respect at Work, which the government recently responded to after having it for a year.

The recommendation was to change sex discrimination laws to force all employers to proactively take measures to eliminate the behaviour.

At first the government only committed to assess whether that change would create complexity, noting similar provisions in work health and safety legislation.

Assistant Minister for Women Amanda Stoker said the government already believed such a positive duty existed, but was taking a look at what more could be done.

"We are reviewing the ways in which the positive duty that currently exists operates, and we will assess whether or not legislative reform is needed or not to bolster it," she told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra on Wednesday.

"We don't disagree with the value of the recommendation that the commissioner has put forward. Positive duties to create a safe working environment are something in which we see value."

The government had "noted" the recommendation to ensure there wasn't a duplication in the law.

"It's also true to say there's more than one way to skin a cat here," Senator Stoker said.

"Duplication has costs."

Education and support could be invested in to ensure a holistic approach, she added.

The Respect at Work report contains 55 recommendations and the government has not committed to implementing all of them.

Changes agreed to include sexual harassment becoming a valid reason for dismissal and being included in the definition of serious misconduct in workplace laws.

The scope for complaints will be extended to two years, from six months, giving victims more time to come forward.

Politicians and judges will also be subject to the same sexual harassment laws as the wider population.