Members of parliament have been warned there will be “consequences” for sexual harassment as the government announces it will revise federal laws to try to eradicate sexual misconduct in Australian workplaces.

In response to the Respect @ Work report drafted by Gender Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins in March 2020, the government announced Thursday that it had accepted most of the report’s 55 recommendations, in whole, in part, or in principle.

However, the government rejected a key recommendation regarding the private sector, suggesting it will not legislate a “positive duty” that would force employers to take action to eliminate gender discrimination in the workplace.

While not recommended in the report, one of the key measures announced by the government on Thursday is to amend the gender discrimination law to include MPs, judges and civil servants who are exempt under current laws on gender. sexual harassment.

The definition and scope of sexual harassment will also be broadened, with “serious misconduct” provisions in workplace laws clarified to make sexual harassment a valid reason for firing an employee.

In another major change to encourage victims to come forward, people will have two years to file a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission, extending the current deadline to six months.

Morrison said the government would announce a funding commitment for the changes in the May budget, and acknowledged that the events of the past two months had revealed the need for action.

“There is no doubt that the events of recent months have heightened the importance [of the problem] and underlined it once again, ”Morrison said.

Since February, the government has come under fire for its response to a series of misconduct scandals, including the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins by a colleague in the government wing of Parliament, a historic rape allegation against MP Christian Porter, whom he categorically denies. , staff members sharing obscene photos in Parliament and the bad behavior of Liberal National MP Andrew Laming.

Morrison had previously announced a front-seat reshuffle that promoted women, while also creating a new cabinet task force to bring a “new lens” to government deliberations.

Jenkins, who will lead a new task force to implement the government’s response to the Respect @ Work report, is also undertaking a separate “tailor-made” review of Parliament’s work culture.

Stating that “everyone” has the right to be safe at work, Morrison said the government needs to find a way to ensure that MPs – who are elected and not employed – are captured by the new laws.

“Members of Parliament are in a different situation because of the nature of how we come to these jobs,” Morrison said.

“We only have one boss, and it’s the Australian people who elect us, and that’s a process we’ll have to work through carefully when writing.”

“The recommendations are not… detailed in terms of the wording of many of these provisions and how these issues are handled. What is important, however, is the principle that is established and that the deputies and that is to say the judges … [and] government officials are not exempt from these provisions.

Morrison said the government will prepare a set of laws to present to Parliament this year, saying there will be consultations to gain bipartisan support for the changes.

Newly appointed Attorney General Michaelia Cash said the government wanted to reduce the complexity of the existing system for employers and employees, but avoided a recommendation to introduce a positive obligation for employers.

“We want consistency and we want to reduce complexity. So now we’re going to see how you can implement this in sex discrimination law, but without making the system more complex and not confusing people as to where to go, ”Cash said.

Jenkins recommended amending the sex discrimination law to introduce a positive obligation for all employers to “take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination” in the workplace, Human Rights Commission being empowered to assess compliance.

But in response to the recommendation, the government said it would assess whether this could “create more complexity, uncertainty or duplication in the overall legal framework.”

On a series of other recommendations relating to the private sector – mainly relating to training and reporting – the government said it “strongly encourages the sector to engage with the council”.

“The government notes that the engagement of industry groups and the private sector will be critical to effecting economy-wide change.

A recommendation to the government to ratify the International Labor Organization’s Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment in the World of Work has not been accepted, nor any change allowing unions to bring representative matters to the courts. courts.

The government has indicated that it will do more on preventive measures by seeking to foster broader cultural change, signaling new education and training programs in a range of sectors, more research on prevention strategies and a better data collection.

Morrison said the issue of workplace harassment is a “culture that we need to change across our society,” and urged people to work together to get results.

“We will take responsibility for our responsibilities but we all, each of us individually, have a responsibility for our own behaviors and actions and for what we can do in a positive way to ensure that we can change the culture of the behaviour.”

He also said that people should speak out against inappropriate behaviors in their daily lives, some of which could stem from “unconscious behavior”.

“This is the kind of conversation we need to have in our relationships, in our communities, in our homes, in our clubs, in our churches, wherever you are. We just need to have these conversations and people need to understand in our own workplaces what’s OK, what’s wrong. “