The Turnbull government will help fund a new national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces to be spearheaded by the Australian Human Rights Commission, partly in response to shocking revelations from the #MeToo movement.
The minister for women, Kelly O’Dwyer, was to confirm on Wednesday that the government would provide $500,000 towards the inquiry to be run by the sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins.
The commission is now conducting the fourth national survey into workplace sexual harassment, with results expected in August. Jenkins said the early indications from that research suggested harassment rates in Australia had increased significantly since the last survey was conducted in 2012.
“We need to continue working to create a society where this kind of conduct is unthinkable, and where sexual harassment at work is not something people simply have to put up with,” Jenkins says.
“I believe this national inquiry is a huge step in the right direction.”
The government says more than 20% of Australians over the age of 15 have been sexually harassed, and 68% of that cohort were harassed in the workplace.
O’Dwyer, characterising the new inquiry as a world first, said action was necessary. She said the inquiry would “consider the drivers of sexual harassment in the workplace, the use of technology and social media and the legal framework, as well existing practices to inform practical recommendations that will assist Australian workplaces deal with this sensitive and difficult issue”.
O’Dwyer said unchecked sexual harassment, as well as being inappropriate, impacted on workplace productivity and participation. “We already know that the personal and career consequences of workplace sexual harassment are very significant.
“The organisational impacts are also substantial, including reduced productivity, high staff turnover, absenteeism, compensation claims and early retirement.
“The inquiry will draw on economic modelling so we will have a better sense of how much it is costing individual Australians as well as well as Australian businesses.”
O’Dwyer said the case studies that had come to light as a consequence of the #MeToo movement have highlighted the prevalence of poor behaviour.
Jenkins said the commission would use the findings from the inquiry to identify the scale of the problem in Australia and examine incidences across a range of sectors.
“We will examine the current Australian legal framework on sexual harassment, including a review of complaints made to state and territory anti-discrimination agencies,” the sex discrimination commissioner says.
“In making our recommendations, we will consider the changing work environment and existing good practice being undertaken by employers to prevent and respond to workplace sexual harassment.”