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Lisa Annese on ABC News talking about tackling sexual harassment at work

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Lisa thank you for coming in. Now, I'd firstly like to get your assessment of this report Kate Jenkins says the inquiry showed that sexual harassment at work isn't just a few bad apples. Do you think her inquiry and the report got to the heart of what is going on in Australian workplaces?

Well, I'd like to say that we really welcome the report that was presented today, tabled in parliament today, it's really comprehensive. It's the result of a long review, many submissions and it builds on the data that the Human Rights Commission has done repeatedly, which shows that far from sexual harassment being something that's on the decline, it still persists, and actually, most people don't report it so the recommendations are very welcome and I congratulate Kate Jenkins on the report.

 

So, let's then talk about how to rid the workforce of sexual harassment and Kate Jenkins says industry specific information is key, how important is this one and how can it be that today people don't see sexual harassment in the workplace when it occurs?

Look I think that's one for the ages because the Act is really explicit as to what it is and it's really clear it's unwanted, unwelcome harassment of the sexual nature and it lists examples and most big workplaces do have training programs and they regularly reinform their employees so I'm at a loss to understand why people don't know what it is but I think the issue is bigger than the workplace. I think that understanding sexual harassment, and something that's framed really well in this report is the fact that we have to take a whole society approach to its eradication and to really ensure we streamline the way in which we educate people in workplaces around what harassment is and how to go about getting a resolution.

 

Kate Jenkins also spoke about how the reliance on the complaints system isn't working so, if you or I were facing harassment in the workplace, that we may not want to simply go to our superior and put up our hand and identify us as such, what needs to change then in this respect?

Well the approach here really focuses on prevention which is obviously the solution to all of this. We know that sexual harassment is under reported. We also know that most things like this especially when they manifest in a workplace, because it usually involves a power and people having less power than the harasser, to actually make a complaint is something that not a lot of people do. So, when the Human Rights Commission talks about complaints, they're only talking about people who have made complaints. The incidence of harassment is much higher so I think that whole of life cycle approach is really important. We do still need to make it clearer what harassment is and what it isn't, and the recommendation to get all the parties who have anything to do with appropriate workplace behaviour like the Fair Work Commission around the table and to understand so we can get a more streamlined approach, that's very welcome as well. We do need to keep working on prevention.

 

Education and prevention are key but there is also proposals of changing the legal and regulatory framework, changing the Sex Discrimination Act itself, what do you think should change there?

Well what I read today, and I haven't read the report in enormous detail, but they were small but important changes to the Act, such as "what the objective of this Act is", it's not just to eliminate discrimination, it's to create gender equality and to really talk about redefining what workplace interactions look like and to modernise it, it was written in 1984 and it needs to encompass that fact that workplaces can look vastly different now.

I think those things will make it easier for people to know and for employers to know what is sexual harassment and what it isn't, and it will certainly make initiatives around education, in the workplace, important. It's interesting to note that education in the recommendations here are about not just about what happens in the workplace, but it's around what happens outside the workplace and the need to engage with all organisations like Our Watch who already do preventative work, I think that's a really really good idea.

 

What about schools?

I think it's really important, I think there's a recommendation in there around respectful relationships in schools, I mean you're not a clean slate when you arrive at the workplace, you bring with you everything that you know to be true about your interactions with other people the positives and the negatives so it's important in any education process to actually start be them good or bad and DCA is actually releasing a piece of work on International Women's Day to show just how much our rigid gender norms have an impact, not just on development of girls but also boys and subsequently the way they act with each other long before we get to the workplace.

And just finally, you did make a submission to the inquiry, was there anything else you would have seen in this report?

We think it's a really comprehensive report. What I hope happens is that the recommendations here will need resourcing and I think that it will be terrible if this landmark report, the recommendations get approved without appropriate resourcing because it just won't be possible to fulfil the requirements of this and the other thing is, I find it really interesting that this tabled in parliament at the same time that we have the Religious Freedoms Bill conversations happening and they are quite opposed to each other.

So, you expect that there could well be some difficulties in getting legislation through the parliament?

Well I'm certainly hoping that there will be difficulties getting the Religious Freedoms Bill through the parliament in its current form.

Ok, Lisa Annese the CEO of the Diversity Council of Australia, thank you very much.

Thank you for having me.

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