Review: National Inquiry into Sexual Assault in Australian Workplaces


In the past 5 years, 1 in 3 people has experienced sexual harassment at work. The 2018 National Survey highlighted that 2 in 5 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced this situation. Moreover, 53% of the victims are Aboriginals.

In June 2018, against the backdrop of the momentum of the #MeToo movement and recognition of the prevalence of, and immense harm caused by sexual harassment in Australian, and global, workplaces, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, and the then Minister for Women, the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer, announced the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces (Inquiry).

The report, Respect@Work, highlights that the current legal system is simply no longer fit for purpose. The Australian Human Rights Commission stressed that Australian laws need to be improved to protect workers against prevalent and persuasive sexual harassment. The laws are complex and confusing for both victims and employers to understand and navigate. Therefore, it is a priority to clarify those laws. With this inquiry, the Commission also aims to improve the prevention of sexual harassment. To prevent workplace sexual harassment, primary prevention initiatives must not only address the drivers of sexual harassment in a workplace context but also in society more broadly. Furthermore, the Commission doesn’t want the victims to fear the backlash of filing a complaint.

The Australian Human Rights Commission insists on qualifying sexual harassment in workplaces as a societal issue. Sexual harassment is recognised as a form of gendered violence.

Moreover, the Inquiry found that as well as having a devastating and profound impact on individuals, workplace sexual harassment also undermines workplace productivity and imposes a significant economic cost to Australian society.

This inquiry presents a new regulatory model that recognised that the right of workers to be free from sexual harassment is a human right, a workplace right and a safety right. Thus, the Commission introduces in this Inquiry 55 recommendations to deal with sexual harassment. Such as:

  • amending the Sex Discrimination Act to introduce a positive duty on all the employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation.
  • extending the liability for sexual harassment to those who "aid or permit" another person to sexually harass a person.
  • extending timeframes to lodge a complaint with the AHRC from six to 24 months.
  • establishing a Workplace Sexual Harassment Council.
  • amending state and territory human rights and anti-discrimination legislation with the objective of achieving consistency, where possible, with the Sex Discrimination Act, without limiting or reducing protections.’
  • enhancing the training and education of everyone on the topic of sexual harassment in a workplace.

By Solene Talouarn, NSWCCL Intern November - March 2020


Read the Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report (2020) HERE.