Kate Jenkins will push for stronger Respect at Work laws after Morrison's 'missed opportunity'

The sex discrimination commissioner has vowed not to give up on landmark workplace sexual harassment reforms after the federal government last week knocked back a proposal to introduce the majority of them.

Commissioner Kate Jenkins, who delivered 55 recommendations in a world-first report on respect at work last year, told a panel at the first National Women's Summit she was hopeful stronger rules were still on the way.

The federal government-hosted summit is being convened virtually on Monday and Tuesday, with around 300 participants coming together to help inform the next national plan to tackle the scourge of family violence.

Federal laws passing Parliament last week now give employees two years to make a complaint about workplace harassment they've experienced and make sexual harassment a valid reason to be fired.

But 49 of the report's recommendations were excluded from the final bill, including a "positive duty" clause that would force employers to create safe workplaces and educate staff on appropriate behaviour.

Ms Jenkins said she would not let it go, adding the positive duty exclusion was most crucial.

"Of course I want all of [the recommendations implemented] but the one that is a missed opportunity, and is central, is the positive duty in the Sex Discrimination Act," she said.

"I would just say it's not off the agenda, even though it's frustrating.

"I'm not giving up."

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins was disappointed stronger Respect at Work laws weren't passed but has vowed not to give up. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins was disappointed stronger Respect at Work laws weren't passed but has vowed not to give up. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier conceded Australia "does have a problem" with how it treats women in his summit keynote speech, including a culture which excuses or ignores the gender inequality which leads to domestic violence.

He told the online event that the only way to end violence against women was to make sure that it didn't occur in the first place. He said that would require a change in attitudes and behaviours across society.

"It is not a new problem, and it's not a simple problem, but Australia does have a problem," he said.

"While much has changed over the years, too much has stayed the same.

"There is still an attitude, a culture that excuses and justifies, ignores or condones gender inequality that drives, ultimately, violence against women."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Mr Morrison said the women's safety discussion needed to focus on the actions of men, and how some believed that they "owned women".

"This must continue to change, because if not now, when?" he said.

"This is a call to action, a call for change. Every Australian has a part to play in making Australia safe for every women."


While he did not explicitly reference Brittany Higgins, Mr Morrison acknowledged the national conversation about the treatment of women, which was sparked by the former Liberal staffer's decision to go public with allegations of rape in Parliament House.

He said too many Australian women were unsafe, whether it be in their workplace, at home or even in broad daylight.

"That is is not OK. There is no excuse, and sorry doesn't cut it," he said.

Ms Higgins criticised Mr Morrison's "platitudes and warm sentiments", arguing they did not match with his party's actions.

The former Liberal staffer last week slammed the federal government's passing of weakened respectful workplace reforms.

She said she was devastated just six of Ms Jenkins' 55 recommendations were enshrined in the new laws.

"These reforms would have had a real long term impact on the lives of all Australian women ensuring safer and more equitable workplaces," she said.

"It's devastating to see a real opportunity for positive change be denied for all the working women in this country."

The federal budget this year included $1.1 billion for women's safety measures, including additional funding for frontline services.

The two-day summit will feature a keynote speech from eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant and a range of panel discussions.

Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:

This story Jenkins to push for stronger harassment reforms after PM's 'missed opportunity' first appeared on The Canberra Times.