April 9, 2021 — 5.19pm April 9, 2021 — 5.19pmNormal text sizeLarger text sizeVery large text size
In the battle for social change, high profile individual cases – the causes celebres – can play a crucial role in putting an issue into sharp focus.
The allegations of rape made by Brittany Higgins provided such a catalyst for the federal Parliament. Australian of the Year Grace Tame’s fight for victims of sexual assault provided another.
But if women are to live without fear and on equal terms, the outrage generated by these cases must produce broader, structural reforms.
Two long-awaited documents were released this week offering blueprints for what those reforms might be.
One is the government’s response to the Respect@Work report on sexual harassment by Kate Jenkins, former Sexual Discrimination Commissioner, unveiled by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday.
The report, commissioned in 2018 at the start of the #MeToo movement was released in March 2019 but it has taken more than a year for the government to respond.
It certainly looks as though the political campaign led by Ms Higgins and Ms Tame helped train Mr Morrison’s mind on an issue which had previously languished amid the COVID-19 pandemic and other priorities.
The Respect@Work report proposed a raft of legal changes and spending measures to protect the 39 per cent of women and 26 per cent of men who said they have experienced sexual harassment in the previous five years.
Mr Morrison and new Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said they support all the report’s 55 recommendations in principle but they have only noted some of the key recommendations and stopped short of committing to implementing them.
Among the key measures they’ll implement is a law change including an explicit prohibition on sexual harassment, making it easier to lodge complaints. They will also extend the Sex Discrimination Act to cover actions by judges, politicians and public servants who are currently exempt.
The federal government has also agreed to make sexual harassment a sackable offence under the Fair Work Act.
The Herald welcomes these changes in light of its reporting on cases such as the behaviour of High Court judge Dyson Heydon.