TRANSCRIPT - Morrison Government fails on Respect at Work reforms
02 September 2021
Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021
I, too, rise to make a contribution to the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021 debate, and to strongly endorse the amendments moved by the Manager of Opposition Business in the House on behalf of the member for Sydney earlier today.
Here we are, just days away from this government's women's safety summit, and yet the head of that government, the Prime Minister, cannot even honour the word he gave, the promise he made to Australian women in April to implement all 55 recommendations of the Jenkins [email protected] report. I join with so many of my colleagues in saying how disappointed we are in the lack of action by this government. I've actually moved beyond disappointed; I've stepped right into the incensed stage. There is an urgency that is required from this government, and yet we see zero action.
How short are the memories of members opposite? Thousands of women across this nation descended on the front lawn of Parliament House to have their voices heard. They were marching in the streets in country towns and cities across the nation. When those women arrived in Canberra, they had a message they wanted us to hear. I was very pleased to be part of a strong Labor delegation that went to listen. That delegation included the Leader of the Opposition and our extraordinary women, Labor women, who make up our strong caucus here. We went to listen to what that message was. We listened to the most heartbreaking speeches made by so many women, the most notable being the speech made by Brittany Higgins. Yet the government and the Prime Minister could not find their way to the front lawn to listen to that message. The Prime Minister couldn't see his way to do that. And he wonders why Australian women are now incensed? But is it any wonder when people feel so ignored, when they look at the track record of this government, when we look at the ongoing failure of this government to make the link between gendered inequality in Australia as a driving force behind the gendered nature of violence in our communities?
This bill before the House today is a half-baked effort to try to implement just some of those recommendations made by Kate Jenkins. This is a report that the government itself commissioned in 2018. It chose to let it sit on the desk of the then Attorney-General, Christian Porter, for 12 months—doing absolutely nothing. Then the shocking allegations of rape in a minister's office, just metres from the Prime Minister's office, finally dragged the government into some kind of response. That's when the Prime Minister gave his false promise to Australian women, when he said he would implement all 55 of these recommendations.
We know from the speeches before what an utter failure this bill is in that regard. That's why Labor have moved a second reading amendment and we'll be moving additional amendments in consideration in detail—to try to get this bill back on track and to try to honour that promise that was given to Australian women.
This place has been under an enormous spotlight for our own unsafe workplace practices. The Australian parliament must be a model employer, yet today we are being asked to tick off on legislation that fails to meet those benchmarks that were set by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner. She found these laws in Australia to be wanting, to be very sadly lacking. We actually didn't need that report to know that. There are few Australian women that haven't felt the brunt of sexual harassment or gendered violence in this nation, and that is to our eternal shame. There are deep, systemic issues of inequality that must be addressed. This bill tries to ignore and paper over that. It is the inability of the government, in fact, to get the connection between gender inequality and gendered violence that dogs every effort they make to try to ensure that women are safe at work. Women deserve to be safe at work, on the streets, and wherever they may go in public or private places.
Whilst this bill does bring some very minimum reforms, it falls way short of the expectations that we have of this government. Australian women deserve a government that can listen, that actually understands and that doesn't just think that we're going to be content with a webinar about women's safety next week as a measure to try to deliver on a promise that this Prime Minister has utterly failed to act upon.
I am strongly supporting the amendments moved by the Labor opposition today. This bill is a shocking missed opportunity. As I said, it is more than disappointing. I know that the Sex Discrimination Commissioner and the Law Council of Australia have both warned the government about the failure to implement recommendation 17, and the positive duty on employers to ensure that our workplaces are safe and free of sexual harassment and violence. Seriously, no-one in Australia thinks that is a bridge too far. How this Prime Minister cannot get on board and agree that our workplaces should be free of sexual harassment and violence is beyond belief.
There are 55 recommendations in the Jenkins report. Each and every one of them need to be implemented today. There should be no ifs or buts about this, no weasel words from this government. The Prime Minister made a promise; we're simply holding you to account. You are to implement all of these recommendations in full. At the very least, you should stick to your word. You should honour and show Australian women some modicum of respect. You like to talk about respect quite a lot. Well, I've got a message for you, Prime Minister: we're asking for you to respect Australian women today. We want you to honour your word to implement all the recommendations—no half-baked measures as presented in this bill will suffice. Women in Australia should not have to wait a second longer for you to take our concerns about the lack of safety afforded to Australian women, not just in workplaces but in our community more broadly. You have so much work to do.
We are here, willing and able to assist government. You should accept the amendments moved by Labor today. There are no excuses anymore. You've got to take some responsibility, Mr Morrison, Prime Minister and now's your time.