• The Government announced the passage of the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Act 2022 (‘the Bill’) through Parliament. The Bill has now passed through both house of Parliament and is awaiting Royal Assent. The key amendments are
• Positive duty: The introduction of a positive duty in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) (SDA) on employers and PCBUs (duty holders) to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate, as far as possible, unlawful sex discrimination, sexual harassment, sex-based harassment, work environments that are hostile on the ground of sex, and victimisation in relation to these matters. With this comes a monitoring and compliance function conferred on the AHRC.
• New prohibition on subjecting others to hostile workplace environments on the grounds of sex: The creation of a new prohibition against conduct that subjects another person to a hostile workplace environment on the ground of sex, and adding a new object of the SDA as eliminating, so far as is possible, discrimination involving workplace environments that are hostile on the grounds of sex; and
• Class actions: Amendments that allow for representative bodies (such as unions) to make representative applications in the Federal Courts (also known as ‘class actions’) on behalf of one or more individuals who have experienced unlawful discrimination.
In 2022, the Australian Human Rights Commission conducted the fifth national survey to investigate the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. For the first time, the survey also asked about workers’ views on the actions taken by their employer’s action to address workplace sexual harassment.
The survey provides vital information about the scale of workplace sexual harassment and the need for prevention and response initiatives. The survey was conducted with over 10,000 people. The last survey was conducted in 2018.
• Sexual harassment continues to be an unacceptably common feature of Australian workplaces, with one in 3 workers experiencing workplace sexual harassment in the last 5 years.
• Most sexual harassment in Australian workplaces is carried out by men.
• Half of incidents are repeated and of those, half are ongoing for more than one year.
• Reporting remains low with only 18% of sexual harassment incidents reported, compared to 17% four years ago
• Only a third of Australian workers think their organisation is doing enough.
Brittany Higgins publicly accused Bruce Lehrmann of sexual assault in February 2021. The allegation sparked a review into parliamentary practices and treatment of female staffers. The retrial of the case has been dropped because it has had severe impacts on Brittany’s mental health. The prosecutors were concerned of the strain the trial would have on her mental health as it presented a “significant and unacceptable” risk to her life. Ms Higgins is in hospital and receiving treatment and support.
Chevron has publicly stated that it has zero tolerance for bullying, harassment and discrimination after a shocking report was published. Almost half of the company’s employees in Australia reported experiencing bullying and a third had been subject to sexual harassment. The external report contained pages of testimony, with women reporting experiences at higher rates. This is part of the WA parliamentary inquiry into sexual assault and harassment into the FIFO industry in the mining sector. One interviewee stated her belief that the managers at Chevron continue to disbelieve the prevalence of sexism in the company.
The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) is undergoing a number of reforms, including developing a new code of conduct. In light of the Chevron report, the APPEA is addressing sexual harassment and bullying by implementing its own code. The code is regularly updated, with last amendments being implemented in December 2021. The upcoming changes will focus on workplace behaviours.
The annual Mission Australia survey has been released. Youth Survey 2022 documents the main concerns of young people in Australia. In 2022, the three most important issues for youth were: (1) the environment; (2) equity and discrimination; and (3) mental health. In terms of discrimination, participants reported experiencing discrimination on the basis of gender, race, cultural background and in relation to mental health.