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Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a press conference with senator Michaelia Cash, Attorney-General. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage

Game changer: PM on Respect@Work report

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has agreed to or noted all 55 recommendations in a report on sexual harassment in the workplace, one year on from its release.

At a press conference, Morrison called the Respect@Work Report a “game changer”.

It was the product of a National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces commissioned in mid-2018 and conducted by the sex discrimination commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission, Kate Jenkins.

Morrison committed to the creation of a Respect@Work Implementation taskforce to deliver legislative and regulatory reform, and to simplifying and strengthening the legal framework for employees and employers.

The government also promised to deliver education and training programs across a range of sectors, enhance data collection, and support targeted research and evidence development on prevention strategies.

The Australian Human Rights Commission found 39 per cent of women and 26 per cent of men have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.

Morrison said: “It is not only immoral and despicable and even criminal, it denies Australians, especially women, their personal security and their economic security by not being safe at work.

“This is a culture that we all have to change for the better across our society, by changing our behaviour.”

Jenkins’ report detailed a submission from a former senior manager for an organisation in the health sector, who described systematic sexual harassment by ‘high value’ practitioners.

It read:

On a weekly basis, we were dealing with [practitioners] who were either abusing their staff in a physical manner or taking advantage of them sexually…

In 100 per cent of cases, the women would be dismissed and the [practitioner] would continue practising his predatory ways with the next unsuspecting nurse to be employed into his practice…

[The] organisation would do everything to cover the situation up… so that [the practitioner] could continue to generate revenue for the company.”

And a former nurse also detailed the experience of colleagues who cared for a middle-aged married man who would expose himself to staff despite only being treated for a simple leg fracture. “All of the nurses that had to look after him felt uncomfortable and no one wanted to go in and do the nursing care that was required,” the statement read.

The Commission heard nurses, midwives and workers providing social assistance services experienced high levels of sexual harassment from customers and clients.

A nurse in a public hospital told the Commission:

I have been groped, threatened, and had crude remarks made about me. These are not isolated incidents. Crude comments about your appearance are weekly, if not daily. I have had my breasts squeezed, my private parts groped, a patient attempt to insert a finger into my vagina through my uniform, told to wear tighter clothes and told that I would be a good fuck.”

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) told the Commission that “a significant cultural challenge in health is to change the perception that experiencing violence at work ‘is part of the job’”.

“The ANMF also noted that the perception that some patients are not responsible for their actions due to their clinical or personal circumstances could also be used to excuse sexually harassing behaviour, which posed a ‘significant barrier’ to reporting sexual harassment and managing potential risks,” the report read.

Attorney-general Michaelia Cash said the report highlighted that the issue is not about one person or one industry. “This is a societal problem that requires a societal response.”

Morrison pushed back on an assertion that it took nearly two months of reports of sexual assault and harassment within federal government for his party to respond in full to the report.

“Last year was a very extraordinary year. We would all agree with that. There were many issues that we were not enabled to advance last year because of the demands and pressures of COVID.

“For example, not on one occasion last year was I asked about this matter in the House of Representatives, nor were my ministers.

“But that said... we did provide our initial response in last year's Budget.”

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