New law to stop WA MPs sexually harassing staff

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New law to stop WA MPs sexually harassing staff

The WA State Government is moving to introduce laws that expressly prohibit Members of Parliament from sexually harassing staff.

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The WA State Government is moving to introduce laws that expressly prohibit Members of Parliament from sexually harassing staff.

Attorney General Jim McGinty said the new laws were needed because there was often no direct employment relationship between MPs and staff, which made it difficult to establish that sexual harassment had occurred.

Not adequately protected

McGinty said recent events at Parliament had revealed staff were not adequately protected from such abuse.

‘Sexual harassment in the workplace by people in positions of authority is not acceptable,’ he said.

‘Staff at Parliament House should be protected from sexual harassment by MPs, who are clearly in a position of power.'

Employment context

‘Under the current Equal Opportunity Act’s sexual harassment laws, it is necessary to show that a staff member is concerned that refusing or objecting to the other person’s behaviour would have a negative impact on their career. In other words, the sexual harassment must occur in an employment context.'

‘Because there is often no direct employment relationship between MPs and staff, this is difficult to establish. Under the new law, staff won’t be required to feel that their employment is threatened by complaining of workplace sexual harassment.’

McGinty said the new legislation will ensure staff working at Parliament will be protected from unwanted sexual advances, innuendo or other actions by MPs.

Unlawful

The proposed amendment would make it unlawful for an MP to sexually harass:

  • an officer working for the MP; or
  • an officer working for another MP; or
  • an officer or member of the staff of Parliament; or
  • any other person who in the course of employment performs duties at the Parliament or at a place where either House, or a committee of either or both Houses meets.

McGinty said the amendments are based upon provisions of the South Australian Equal Opportunity Act, where similar problems have been encountered.

Allegations

Under the new law, MPs could be subject to an allegation of sexual harassment if they:

  • make an unwelcome sexual advance; or
  • make an unwelcome request for sexual favours; or
  • engage in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.

Complaints

McGinty said that in most cases the complainant would be dealt with by the Equal Opportunity Commissioner, who could refer the matter to the State Administrative Tribunal, which could award compensation of up to $40,000 to victims.

Matters that could impinge on parliamentary privilege would be dealt with by the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly or the President of the Legislative Council, rather than the Equal Opportunity Commissioner.


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