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Pollies, judges must fall into line under new sexual harassment laws

Politics

Politicians and judges will be subject to the same sexual harassment laws as the wider population under major workplace reforms.

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The Morrison government has released its long-awaited response to the Respect at Work report, accepting all 55 recommendations either wholly or in principle.

Sexual harassment will be a valid reason for dismissal and included in the definition of serious misconduct in workplace laws.

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

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the changes were about changing the culture of Australian workplaces to keep people safe.

“Sexual harassment is unacceptable,” he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

“It’s not only immoral and despicable and even criminal, but particularly in the context of the Respect at Work report, it denies Australians, especially women, not just their personal security but their economic security.”

The government has also agreed with the principle that employers should be forced to take more proactive action on harassment to ease the burden on victims.

Morrison said money to support the recommendations would be included in next month’s federal budget.

The government is aiming for a package of legislation to be introduced to parliament this year.

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said including MPs and judges in sexual harassment laws would expose them to existing complaints processes.

“We’ll be subject to the same law as anybody else, which means you’ll be subject to the same consequences,” she said.

Almost 40 per cent of women and more than a quarter of men experience sexual harassment at work in the past five years, according to the latest data.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins handed her report to the government in January last year.

The coalition has been under enormous pressure to address women’s safety after recent rape and sexual harassment allegations rocked federal politics.

It sparked a wave of major protests across the country and prompted questions about why the government’s response to the report took so long.

“There is no doubt that the events of recent months has re-enforced the significance and highlighted it once again,” Morrison said.

Nine recommendations were acted on in October’s budget.

The government is also convening a women’s safety summit in late July to guide the next violence prevention plan.

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