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Norman Waterhouse

Legislative Update: Proposed overhaul of sex discrimination legislation

In response to recent allegations of sexual harassment in Parliament House that have come to light, the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Prohibiting All Sexual Harassment) Bill 2021 (the Bill) has been introduced into Parliament.

The Bill seeks to address gaps in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) (the SD Act) to ensure that the act of sexual harassment is prohibited in all situations. Currently, sexual harassment is only unlawful if it occurs in circumstances exclusively listed in the SD Act, such as in employment or educational institution settings. Further, statutory appointees such as judges and members of parliament are not protected, or personally liable, for sexual harassment under the current legislation.

While those gaps have been previously highlighted in submissions as part of a 2008 inquiry into the effectiveness of the SD Act, the recommendation that the SD Act be amended to ‘include a general prohibition against sex discrimination and sexual harassment in any area of public life’ was not implemented.

The Bill, whose second reading was moved on 15 March 2021, now proposes to:

  • Omit the various clauses in the SD Act outlining the circumstance where sexual harassment is prohibited, and replace them with a blanket prohibition of sexual harassment; and
  • Clarify that persons in positions that were previously overlooked (such as gig economy workers and statutory appointees) are adequately protected, as well as personally liable for sexual harassment.

The Bill is consistent with human rights and freedoms as it promotes the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to work, the right to self-determination and the right to an effective remedy and fair hearing.

The Bill is subject to change as it is considered in Parliament. We will continue to provide updates as that occurs.

For more information in relation to this article please contact Virginia Liu on +61 8 8210 1279 or vliu@normans.com.au or Anastasia Gravas on +61 8 8217 1331 or agravas@normans.com.au.

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