Australia was once at the forefront of tackling sexual harassment globally.
Women’s organisations in Australia began to press for the legal and social recognition of sex discrimination in the early 1970s. This movement built on Australia’s ratification of two key international conventions:
the International Labour Organization’s Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention in 1973
the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (‘CEDAW’) in 1983.
States including South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria enacted anti-discrimination laws covering the ground of sex in the late 1970s.
In 1984, the Australian Government introduced the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which specifically prohibited sexual harassment at work and established the role I currently occupy, as Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner. Since that time, successive Sex Discrimination Commissioners have identified the elimination of workplace sexual harassment as a key priority.
However, over 35 years on, the rate of change has been disappointingly slow. Australia now lags behind other countries in preventing and responding to sexual harassment.