Just six of the 16 recommendations that could have been legislated from Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ landmark Respect@Work report into workplace sexual harassment have been passed in Parliament.
It comes less than six months after the Morrison government said it would accept all of the report’s 55 recommendations, at least in part and principle.
Spin, lies, and absolute bullshit. The government released its response to the report in April, holding a press conference to pat itself on the back. It didn’t release its response to the report until more than an hour after the conference, meaning journalists couldn’t integrate it into questions.
Satisfied with the positive media attention, the Morrison government then quietly walked back its support for the report last week. Instead of supporting women during a momentous era of the Me Too movement, what did our Coalition politicians do?
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They said not today, not now, perhaps not ever.
Because we can’t let women rise at the expense of men pulling their heads in now, can we?
Onus on women
While it will now be legal for employers to fire someone for sexual harassment under the new bill (that’s right, it wasn’t before), there will still be no requirement for employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. With no preventative measures, the burden is still on women to lodge formal complaints — which can have a worse impact on the person making the complaint than the alleged perpetrator.
Also ignored were recommendations for the Fair Work system to be reviewed to ensure sexual harassment is expressly prohibited, and that victims of sexual harassment will be protected against massive legal bills when taking actions against perpetrators.
Much of the other 39 recommendations have yet to be implemented, with extra funding for women’s centres still not allocated, though the government has said it is delivering education and training programs across a range of sectors, with tenders open for sexual harassment training in Parliament.
Over $64 million was made available in the last budget to support the government’s response to the report (to implement just 11% of the report). The bill received 23 aye votes from members of the Coalition parties, and 17 no votes — 16 from Labor and one from an independent. Of the aye votes, five were women.
The government ignored the report for over a year, only responding to it when tens of thousands of Australians protested against the pervasive culture of sexual violence in this country. Former attorney-general Christian Porter was appointed to oversee it — a man accused of historical rape and sexual misconduct, which he vehemently denies.
To review workplace culture, Prime Minister Scott Morrison appointed Liberal MP Celia Hammond — a conservative anti-feminist who has criticised pre-marital sex, contraception and abortion, and labelled feminism as “anti-tradition, anti-men, anti-society, anti-family”.
Missing in action
The devastating news about the recommendations comes a week before the launch of the National Summit on Women’s Safety, which has already been criticised by 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame as lacking focus on prevention and leaving women to deal with the issue. Tame said that of 49 people present at a roundtable discussion, just one was a man — and Tame was the only lived-experience survivor.
In July, Australia’s participation at the United Nations Generation Equality Forum was barely noticed. No press releases were issued by either Minister for Women and Foreign Affairs Marise Payne or Australia’s ambassador for gender equality Julie-Ann Guivarra. Australia was also not represented at the forum’s invitation-only opening ceremony.
Perhaps they didn’t want to draw attention to the fact Australia has slipped down to 50th place on the Global Gender Gap Index, well below other OECD nations. In 2006, it ranked 15th.
It’s getting worse
Australian women don’t stand alone in this slow decline towards an even more chauvinistic society. In the US, Roe v Wade — the historic Supreme Court decision that limited government intervention on women’s right to abortion — has been undermined by Texas state legislation then upheld by the Supreme Court.
Abortions in the state will now be banned if the foetus has developed cardiac activity — which occurs about six weeks of pregnancy and well before most women realise they’re pregnant. (Cardiac activity is not a heartbeat, as most embryos haven’t actually developed a heart at this point.)
Worse, citizens from anywhere in the United States can sue someone in Texas if they believe they helped procure abortion. This could include people helping pay for an abortion, an Uber driver who drove them somewhere, or a teacher that offered advice. The minimum reward is US$10,000.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, women living under the new Taliban regime face being whipped for travelling without a male companion, wearing Western clothes or not covering themselves appropriately, and have been told to stay home as Taliban soldiers are “not trained to respect women”.
Australia isn’t sanctioning this cruel new political order. Instead, we are hosting the Afghan cricket team in Tasmania for a test match — a visit sanctioned by the Taliban.
Women aren’t sitting idly by. There are social media callouts to flood the Texas abortion dob-in hotline with phony tip-offs, and in Afghanistan women have protested, demanding the right to work and education, risking beatings and murder.
Australian women aren’t silent either. We’re loud, we’re angry, we’re fed up and we’re pissed off. But yet again, our protests are falling on deaf ears.