Skip to main content

Channel 7 Sunrise with Natalie Barr and Michael Usher



Subjects: Respect@Work report

NATALIE BARR: Joining us now is Attorney-General Michaelia Cash. Morning to you. Now, politicians and judges will be subject to the Sexual Discrimination Act for the first time. They still can't be sacked though. Why haven't you used this opportunity to send a strong message to the Australian public about Canberra's culture crisis?

MICHAELIA CASH: I think this does send a very strong message to the public. The Australian Government, as you've said, has accepted all or in part, the 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work report. It is unclear at the moment if the Sex Discrimination Act does apply to Commonwealth judges and members of parliament. As a government, we've said that is unacceptable, and we will make it expressly clear that it does, and they will subject to the same laws as anybody else if a sexual harassment complaint is brought against them.

NATALIE BARR: So are you saying that once you clarify it, that judges and MPs may still be able to be sacked?

MICHAELIA CASH: At this point in time, nobody is actually able to be sacked. The commission does not have the ability to sack someone. What the commission does is conciliate a complaint. Bring the parties together and see if they can work the complaint out. In the event that they can't, the aggrieved party is then able to exercise their right to take their claim to the court. The court itself has the ability to order compensation, and that will be able to happen in relation to members of Parliament and judges, just like it currently happens in relation to anybody else against whom a sexual harassment complaint is made.

MICHAEL USHER: Attorney-General, when this was delivered to the government last year, it was done with the utmost of urgency by the Sexual Discrimination Commissioner. It needed to be addressed quickly. That was a year ago. Now, the government has had a lot on in a year, but why did it take so long to act?

MICHAELIA CASH: In the first instance, we did put in place action last year. We accepted nine of the recommendations immediately. We put in place the relevant funding and we established the basic foundation of Kate Jenkins' report which was the Respect@Work council. Yesterday, we provided the full and comprehensive response, accepting all, or in part, or nothing where necessary the 55 recommendations. You are right though, Michael, in relation to 2020, globally, there was a pandemic. That necessitated the government to urgently address employment within Australia. We had to put in place measures to keep Australians in jobs and to keep businesses open. But we also took extensive action to keep women safe from domestic violence. I am very pleased that as a result of the government's actions, women's workforce participation is now at an all-time high. But I would disagree that we did not take action. We did. And yesterday, we provided the full and competitive response.

NATALIE BARR: The author of the report, Kate Jackson [sic], one of her main problems, she said it's great what you're doing, but one of her main criticisms of what you're not accepting is that you're not forcing employers to take steps to eliminate sexual disconnection in the workplace. Will you reconsider that?

MICHAELIA CASH: Okay. I think you have verballed Kate Jenkins there. Both the Prime Minister and I have had a very long conversation with Kate Jenkins before the report was released. I spoke to Kate Jenkins yesterday, after the report was released. Kate Jenkins has welcomed the government's response. What she has said in relation to that particular recommendation is she looks forward to working with the government in determining whether the current positive duty- and as government has said, there is a positive duty that already applies to employers under the Work, Health and Safety Act. Kate Jenkins herself, in her report, acknowledges this. One of Kate's points in the report is this. The system is so complex, depending on where you go, employers don't necessarily know exactly what to do. We do not want to add more complexity to this system. And we have been very open and said we will review whether it's appropriate to introduce this positive duty given that one already exists in the Work, Health and Safety legislation.

MICHAEL USHER: Alright, Attorney-General, thanks so much for joining Sunrise this morning.

MICHAELIA CASH: Thank you very much.