Assembly hears about sexual harassment as part of push to update WHS Act

Dominic Giannini 1 April 2021
Labor backbencher Suzanne Orr

Suzanne Orr. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Being trapped in a photocopy room with the boss who copped a feel every time he could.

Being asked in a job interview about plans to start a family and keeping pregnancies secret because she was afraid of being sacked.

Being subjected to the boss rubbing himself against the back of her chair at just 18 years of age.

These are just some of the experiences that led Shadow Minister for Women, Nicole Lawder, to support the inclusion of psychological and social wellbeing in the Territory’s Work Health and Safety Act (WHS).

“These are the types of actions that so many women have experienced and continue to experience,” Ms Lawder said.

“Something has to change. Everyone should feel safe in their workplace … they shouldn’t dread going to work.


READ ALSO: ‘Canberra women are angry, frustrated, and won’t be silenced’


“They shouldn’t have to make plans with other co-workers about never leaving someone alone in a room with a particular person.”

Ms Lawder delivered her emotive speech in the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday (30 March) next to women from all sides of politics who detailed similar experiences in the workplace and called for change.

The new provisions were passed in a motion moved by Labor backbencher Suzanne Orr and drew upon the recommendations of the Respect@Work national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces which was released in 2020.

The report found that two in five women and one in four men had experienced sexual harassment at work in the previous five years.

Shadow Minister for Women Nicole Lawder

Shadow Minister for Women Nicole Lawder. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

The motion committed the government to update the Act and include a definition for “psychosocial hazards”, which refers to how an employee’s mental and physical health is impacted by psychological factors and the social environment around them.

It will put the onus on employers to create a positive environment as opposed to waiting for employees to make complaints.

The government will develop guidelines to address gender-based violence like sexual assault and harassment and report the number of bullying and harassment, sexual harassment and gender-based violence incidents with the ACT public service each year.

All government partners and contractors will also have to report the number of non-disclosure agreements signed in relation to the above categories.

The Assembly’s WHS Committee is finalising a review to develop a workplace respect policy that will outline behaviours that will not be tolerated and increase the focus on prevention measures.


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