Sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins speaks to Respect @ Work

The woman tasked with improving gender-based discrimination says “the time for change is now”, as a new report finds one in three Australians still experience sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins is nearing the end of her tenure and, in a speech to the National Press Club, said in the last five years, change spurred about by the #MeToo movement and promulgated by activists – including those at home – had resulted in a “notable shift towards transparency”.

But she said Australia’s progress in tackling sex discrimination, sexual harassment and gender inequality had slowed “right down” because “we relied too much on the system to deliver the change we want”.

“We didn’t understand that it’s up to us to change,” she said.

“But … the time for patience is over. I want to see people’s lives improve – for women, for people of all genders.”

The Time for Respect report, conducted by the Human Rights Commission, found one in three workers experienced workplace sexual harassment in the last five years, with most incidents carried out by men.

Half of incidents are repeated, and of those half are ongoing for more than one year.

Only a third of Australian workers think their organisation is doing enough.

Ms Jenkins said the statistics were disappointing but did not surprise her.

“Frankly, things are still not good enough,” she said.

“While there’s movement and clearly momentum, a lot of workplaces still need to lift their game – but we’re not at a standing start.”

Her speech comes days after the Albanese government passed the Respect At Work legislation, which requires employers to have a positive duty to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sexual harassment.

Ms Jenkins said those measures would work for big corporations, all the way down to the “smallest of enterprises”.

Her speech also followed the handing down of a report by a joint committee on parliamentary standards that included a draft code of conduct.

She said parliaments, both federal and state and territories, would be included in ensuring they were actively seeking to prevent sexual harassment, bullying and sexual assault.

“I think that parliament have started the work that they need to do already,” she said.

She said what inspired her most when visiting Parliament House was “quiet comments” from staffers, journalists and departmental staff alike that the building “feels different now”.

“I believe our parliament is well placed to become the safe, respectful and diverse workplace we need it to be,” she said.

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