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  • Australia is set to remove exemptions for judges and politicians from sexual harassment laws
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he will adopt all 55 of the sex discrimination commissioner’s recommendations, such as mandatory training for company directors
  • Alleged victims of abuse will have a longer period of time to file their complaint
  • Public servants had previously been exempt from gender discrimination-related cases in the workplace thanks to a legal loophole
  • Previous polls indicated that Morrison’s government would return to office at the next general election, but more recent surveys show his approval ratings to be at their lowest level since before the pandemic began

Australia is set to remove exemptions for judges and politicians from sexual harassment laws as the federal government struggles to contain a backlash over allegations of assault against female lawmakers and staff.

According to sweeping changes designed to empower complainants, employers will be required to take a more proactive approach in addressing gender discrimination and alleged victims of abuse will have a longer period of time to file their complaint.

A report published early last year by Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner called for broad changes to workplace laws, including removing exemptions for public sector employers and people who hire volunteers.

Speaking on Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison added that he will adopt all 55 of the commissioner’s recommendations, such as mandatory training for company directors and reporting by listed companies, along with improved coordination between complaint-handling agencies.

“Sexual harassment is unacceptable,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“It’s not only immoral and despicable and even criminal, but […] it denies Australians, especially women, not just their personal security but their economic security by not being safe at work.”

Public servants, like judges and politicians, had previously been exempt from gender discrimination-related cases in the workplace thanks to a legal loophole that meant they weren’t technically classified as a complainant’s employer.

Zali Steggall, an independent member of parliament and a vocal advocate for reforms to sexual harassment laws, said the decision was “a win for everyone who has been calling on the government to act on sexual harassment, particularly the tens of thousands of people who marched for justice last month.”

Morrison’s Liberal party has been battling to manage widespread allegations that it mishandled instances of sexual harassment and assault after a former staff member made accusations in February that she had been raped in a ministerial office in 2019.

In March, then-Attorney General Christian Porter said he was the subject of an unrelated rape allegation from 1988, which he firmly denied.

While previous polls indicated that Morrison’s government would return to office at the next general election — thanks largely to its hardline response to the COVID-19 pandemic — more recent surveys show his approval ratings to be at their lowest level since before the pandemic began.

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