Assistant Minister Elliot interview on ABC NewsRadio Breakfast with Chris Mitchell


Topics: Our Watch ‘Lead the Change’ Campaign, Workplace Sexual Harassment Laws

CHRIS MITCHELL, HOST: Now three months after tougher workplace sexual harassment laws came into force, there’s a new federally funded campaign to help employers prevent sexual harassment from happening in the first place. The National Violence Prevention Organisation, Our Watch, is launching the initiative today with new figures showing almost 4 million people have reported being sexually harassed at work in the last five years alone. Justine Elliot is the Assistant Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence and she joins us now. Good morning to you.


CHRIS MITCHELL: Yeah, no, thanks for coming on. How pervasive, I should say, is sexual harassment in Australian workplaces? How big a problem is it right now?

JUSTINE ELLIOT: Well, Chris, it is a major problem. The fact is that everyone deserves to be safe and supported and respected in their workplace. But we know from many reports, and if we look at the Australian Human Rights Commission, they report that one in three Australians were sexually harassed at work in the last five years. And we know that has a major impact, of course, on the individuals, also on the broader companies and the economy as well. So, we know that action has to be taken. And that's particularly why we're launching this really important prevention campaign.

As you said, it's being led by Our Watch. They're our National Violence Prevention Organisation that we fund to run campaigns like this. And this campaign is specifically targeted to prevent sexual harassment within targeted workplaces. And it's through the provision of knowledge and skills and tools for those workplaces to address the drivers of sexual harassment. There's also an emphasis on the positive duty, the positive duty of employers to take reasonable, proportionate measures to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace.

CHRIS MITCHELL: Right. You say targeted action - does that mean there are sectors where sexual harassment is worse than others?

JUSTINE ELLIOT: Well, this particular campaign is targeting certain industries, particularly the construction industry, the information, media and telecommunications industry, and also the retail trade as well. Now, a lot of these industries are ones, obviously, that are highly male dominated. So, we're focusing on those. Our Watch will be specifically dealing with industry leaders in terms of this campaign, and what they've got is a whole suite of measures for industry leaders to be looking at and they'll also be providing all that support to them as well. Of course, we encourage all employers to get involved - it is everyone's responsibility to make sure our workplaces are free of any form of sexual harassment.

CHRIS MITCHELL: Yeah, indeed. You say they have a whole suite of measures they can call on. Could you give us an idea of what they might be?

JUSTINE ELLIOT: Sure. Look, there's a whole lot, and they're all freely available on the Our Watch webpage as well. There's newsletters and posters and fact sheets as well, but it provides a lot of information in terms of identifying sexual harassment, and in providing advice and support to employers. It's about educating and empowering employers as well, but also promoting the benefits of preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. Because the fact is we know that we will attract and retain a more diverse and capable workforce as well. It’s really important for those individuals in our workplaces, and more broadly for the economy, because we know that workplace sexual harassment costs our economy $3.8 billion due to lost productivity, absenteeism and staff turnover. So, we encourage all employers to get involved with this campaign. Of course, they do have a legislative responsibility as well, in terms of a positive duty. But as I said at the beginning, everyone deserves to be safe, supported and respected in their workplace.

CHRIS MITCHELL: Okay, I just want to get a few more details on this campaign that is being launched today, what it might actually look like and how we will know, how we will tell that it's been launched. What form will it take?

JUSTINE ELLIOT: The form will take all of those tools and resources that are available on the Our Watch webpage, in terms of assisting employers with identifying and looking at what sexual harassment is in the workplace, what action they can individually take. It's incredibly detailed and I encourage employers to look at that. Also, Our Watch will be dealing with industry leaders as well, particularly in those targeted industries, to work with them, to provide the tools and the knowledge to empower them to make sure they're providing a safe and supported workplace.

CHRIS MITCHELL: It's three months, isn't it? Around three months since the tougher workplace sexual harassment laws came into force. I just wonder whether there's any feedback from those, from employers or employees about whether it's making a difference.

JUSTINE ELLIOT: Well, the fact is, Chris, the majority of employers are always keen to help their employees and provide a safe and supported workforce as well. So, it’s been a very positive response in terms of that and also from employees right across the board. We all want to be promoting and providing a safe workplace where everyone can flourish, and we want to have that in place, and this is part of this campaign to make that happen. Because our government, the Albanese government, are committed to ending violence against women and children in one generation, and a really important part of all of that, too, is addressing sexual harassment in the workplace - and that's exactly what we're doing.

It's part of a broader suite of measures that we do have. And can I add as well, Chris, that if anyone has concerns or wants some assistance, can they please call our Hotline 1800RESPECT. It's the national domestic, family and sexual violence counselling information and support service. That's 1800 737 732. If they do have any concerns or queries or they are at risk or experiencing domestic violence, sexual violence or family violence.

CHRIS MITCHELL: Yes, indeed. Important to restate that one in three, you say, in the last five years, have been affected by sexual harassment. Is this mainly men harassing women?

JUSTINE ELLIOT: Predominantly, that is the case, and a lot of this campaign is aimed at that. I mean, we know the primary driving factors behind gender-based violence can include gender inequality, gender-based norms and often a lot of social, cultural and economic factors as well. So, it's these particular factors that we need to be addressing in our workplace and we need to make sure that we are looking at those reasons behind gender inequality - and employers have such a huge role to play in making sure their workplace is free of sexual harassment.

CHRIS MITCHELL: I just wonder, just a final thought, whether the workplace is too late because the people that are committing sexual harassment learn their way of life, if we can put it that way, before at school, at home, perhaps. And that's where these campaigns need to be directed.

JUSTINE ELLIOT: Well, absolutely, Chris, and we are doing that as a government, right across the board. As I said, this is part of a huge suite of measures. We’re investing $2.3 billion in our commitment to women's safety and specifically what you talked about, younger people, we absolutely target this. We deliver and spend a lot of money, over $77 million, for respectful relationships education. We have Teach Us Consent program resources for young people, a lot of programs around healthy masculinities for school-age boys. Because you're absolutely right, we do need to be targeting younger people and having these really extensive campaigns about ensuring that we all have respectful relationships, and we do have to start that at quite a young age.

We all have a role to play, and our government has invested record amounts to make sure that we are providing all of those prevention initiatives, such as this one we're launching today. We're also providing support and counselling and whatever may be required for those experiencing family, domestic and sexual violence. And that is where that whole suite, that $2.3 billion, is looking at all of those measures. But we are all involved in this - we all have to work together to eliminate violence against women and children in one generation.

CHRIS MITCHELL: Justine, thank you very much.

JUSTINE ELLIOT: Thank you so much, Chris.