Zali Steggall recommends amendments to Respect at Work Bill

7 November 2022

There are two components to the amendment that I have circulated. It's a simple amendment to the drafting of the objects of the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022. What's important in the first part of this amendment is that it's consistent with recommendation 16a of the Respect@Work report. This amendment omits the 'so far as practicable' from the objects. This is necessary because the current wording introduces a lower standard than is proposed in recommendation 16 of the Respect@Work report. It's inconsistent with several other objects contained in section 3 of the Sex Discrimination Act, which sets a higher standard. It may give rise to the implication that rights codified in the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women will only be protected domestically to the extent that it is practicable to do so.

In relation to the second part of the amendment, it is about changing the language used. The objects as drafted by the government in the bill refer to men and women specifically. We need to start moving to gender neutral language. Legislation in this place needs to start embracing the future and younger generations, who are not defined by gender language. In line with the Commonwealth Latimer House principles, gender neutral language should be used in the drafting and use of legislation.

I've heard the Attorney-General say in this place, 'This is changes for later,' and, 'We're just going to stick to exactly the wording of the Respect@Work report.' But the reality is it is incumbent on all of us, in this place, to think about the population that we are going to bind by this legislation. We need to make sure people identify, see themselves, in this legislation, and by restraining the wording, even just in the objects of the act, you are saying that you are limiting it to just those two categorisations.

The reality, in this day and age, in 2022, is that this does not represent everyone. Many people in our communities do not identify in that way. So by limiting the language that way you are limiting the effect of this legislation, which is good. It is very good that we're implementing Respect@Work, that we're making sure sexual harassment and discrimination is limited. But gender neutral language is a way of showing, especially to young people, that everyone in this place is future focused, recognises that times are changing, and it is important that legislation does so as well. It should reflect and respond to community expectations.

We know that gender neutral language is important and there's a strong case for it. The Australian Human Rights Commission national survey found that several harms that the Respect@Work report are seeking to address are incredibly acute for people who identify as LGBTQIA+. In fact, some one in four out of 7,000 interviewed reported harassment in their workplace. If the goal of this legislation is to limit this, the language in the legislation should be inclusive not exclusive. That is what this amendment simply seeks to do.

This is aligned with the recommendations and submission of the Law Council of Australia, and it's consistent with the conclusion of the final report of the inquiry into this bill. The report on the inquiry into this bill concluded that, with respect to the objects clause, the committee notes that there are different and strongly held views that the construction of paragraph 3(e) of the Sex Discrimination Act. The committee acknowledges the importance of gender inclusive language throughout Australia's antidiscrimination law and urges the Australian government to give more thought to the matter.

I'd urge the Attorney-General and the government to consider changing the language of the objects and consider this amendment. It is a simple amendment. This is not opening up a floodgate or changing anything drastic from where the Respect@Work recommendations go, but it is a strong signal to young people, to people of LGBTQI or people that are non-binary, that don't identify with man or woman, that they are also meant to be protected and included in this legislation.