SYDNEY, Australia – After two months of sexual harassment and assault scandals, including a report of rape within Parliament, Australia’s conservative government agreed on Thursday to accept a series of recommendations aimed at preventing gender abuse and increasing gender equality. responsibility for misbehavior in the workplace.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed what he called a “roadmap for respect” in response to the country’s Commissioner for Sexual Discrimination recommendations that would improve workplace culture in the public and private sectors.
His plan includes more education in schools and the promise of new legislation to end exemptions for judges and members of Parliament from the country’s sex discrimination law. It would also allow victims to file complaints for up to two years after an attack.
Morrison’s ad comprises his most comprehensive effort to date to deal with a problem that has been worsening in Australian politics for years, with women being abused, demoted or sexually harassed, usually without recourse.
A federal review focusing on Parliament’s workplace culture has also begun and may produce additional requests for reform as the demand for demonstrable changes continues to intensify.
Critics questioned whether the government’s latest move would be sufficient. Noting that the initial report was published in March 2020, with many of its findings ignored by the Morrison government so far, many women have demanded more details and a clear timetable.
“It will take more than just words from this government to correct the impression that they don’t care about these issues,” said Louise Chappell, professor of political science at the University of New South Wales. “This is not going to pass.”
Emma Husar, a former MP for the opposition Labor Party, said the government is still delivering only “the bare minimum”.
Research has shown that Australian women, in particular, have lost confidence in the government since a former member of the Liberal team said in February that she was raped in a ministerial cabinet in 2019. There was a barrage of accusations against members of Parliament and officials at all levels with marches for justice that drew tens of thousands of women to the streets of Australian cities.
Morrison showed up on Thursday to leave some room for him and his Liberal Party. He said his government accepted all 55 suggestions made in the report “in whole, in part or in principle”, leading his critics to question what measures would be implemented at the federal level, passed on to states or given little more than mouth service.
Many of the recommendations, including the creation of a national sexual harassment research agenda and “respectful relationship” training in schools, can take years to develop. And some of the changes announced on Thursday would simply put Australia in line with other developed democracies – such as Britain, Canada and the United States – that have passed laws in recent years restricting labor standards for lawmakers.
Professor Chappell said that the exemption for members of Parliament, for example – an exclusion in the sex discrimination law also granted to religious organizations – seemed especially outdated. She welcomed the prime minister’s promise to ensure that lawmakers and legal professionals no longer receive special treatment.
“With all the cases we have seen so far, they have managed to act with impunity because they are not responsible in the same way as people outside Parliament are,” she said. “There has been pressure for many years to change that.”
But the complaint process is still unclear. When Morrison was asked what the consequences of a sexual harassment report against a lawmaker would be, he said it had not yet been decided.
“There are many issues that we are still going to work on as we draft this legislation,” he said.
Professor Chappell said that Morrison still seemed to be struggling to know how far to go with politics and how to talk about it. At his news conference on Thursday, he emphasized that in order to change the culture of disrespect in the workplace, all Australians need to take responsibility, but not “in a way that pits Australians against each other.”
“What does he mean here?” Asked Professor Chappell. “That women are being very strident? Is it possible to deal with sexual harassment without any level of confrontation? I think not.”