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Australia’s gender discrimination law will soon apply to politicians.  Why not before?


Morrison told a news conference on Thursday that the government plans to amend the gender discrimination law under measures designed to address sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. He said he hoped to pass the new laws by the end of June.

Morrison said sexual harassment was “immoral and despicable and even criminal” and “denies Australians, especially women, not only their personal safety but their economic security by not being safe at work”.

The changes were recommended in a March 2020 report by Australian Gender Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. It took over a year for the government to announce changes to the law.
The pressure to update the law comes with the country’s political culture under scrutiny following a wave of allegations over the past two months of inappropriate sexual behavior in parliament, including alleged harassment and rape.
In February, a former employee of Morrison’s ruling Liberal Party said she was raped in 2019 by a colleague while in Parliament in Canberra. Three weeks later, then Attorney General Christian Porter revealed he was charged with raping a woman in the late 1980s, which he firmly denied.
Morrison has been heavily criticized for his response to the allegations. On March 15, thousands of women across Australia marched in protest to call for an end to violence against women and better protection against sex crimes.

Zali Steggall, an independent federal politician and lawyer, said the proposed changes to the law were a positive step, but called on the government to make the changes quickly.

“The longer the delay, the more behavior is ignored, and this is not retrospective legislation, so it needs to be passed as soon as possible,” she said.

How the loopholes were created

Australia’s Gender Discrimination Act was passed in 1984.

In a review of the law for the UNSW Law Journal on its 20th anniversary in 2004, Australian discrimination law expert Beth Gaze described it as “hesitant and rather ambivalent”.

Gaze told CNN that under the Gender Discrimination Act, politicians and judges are not covered because they do not fall within areas of employment where the law prohibits discrimination – leaving them outside the protections of the law.

Australia’s gender discrimination law will soon apply to politicians.  Why not before?

The staff of politicians are covered by separate labor law, Gaze said, which does not include protection against gender discrimination.

Legal experts said the loopholes in the law were likely the result of outdated and poorly worded legislation, rather than an attempt to deliberately shield Australian politicians from accusations of sexual harassment.

Federal politician Steggall said the original wording of the 1984 law was proscriptive, trying to present all types of workplaces where discrimination or harassment could occur, rather than issuing a blanket ban. The wording of the legislation has created confusion and gray areas.

The original law “reflected the time in which it was created,” Australia Law Council chairman Dr Jacoba Brasch said in a statement. “Australian culture and attitudes have evolved and the SDA needs to be updated to reflect contemporary public expectations,” she said.

Steggall said the loopholes were first identified in an Australian Senate inquiry in 2008, but took more than a decade to be corrected, with blame falling on “all sides of politics for n ‘ have not acted “.

What is in the amendments?

Morrison said Thursday he would adopt all 55 recommendations made by the commissioner, including a blanket ban on gender discrimination in the workplace and a nationwide inquiry every four years to verify progress.

The government’s proposed changes to the Gender Discrimination Act would also make it clear to employers and employees what constitutes gender discrimination and give complainants more time to file their complaints.

But despite Morrison’s June schedule, Steggall said she had drafted new laws that were ready to be introduced once Parliament resumed in May.

Its legislation would fill gaps in the law on sex discrimination and sexual harassment under all circumstances, she said. The law would also penalize organizations or political parties that aid or abet crime.

Brasch said the success of any legislation introduced by the Morrison government would depend on how the new laws were drafted, to clear any “ambiguity” in the legislation and ensure that officials are “personally responsible” for sexual harassment.

“(This is) the key to ensuring that (the problem) is dealt with appropriately, and that problematic conduct does not fall into regulatory loopholes,” she said.

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