Premier Wayne Panton has vowed to bring legislation dealing with sexual harassment to parliament within the next year.
Speaking on Crosstalk radio show at the close of a Compass series highlighting the issue, the premier said getting the long-awaited bill passed was a priority for his administration.
“I can tell you categorically it is something we want to see addressed, it is just a timing issue and I don’t think it is going to be too far down the track,” he said.
The Sexual Harassment Bill would make it mandatory for employers to have internal policies to tackle harassment and create clear pathways for victims in all walks of life to report abuse and get justice. It was released in draft form in 2012 but was never passed.
Panton said he would seek to advance the issue this year by going out to public consultation on a new draft of the legislation. He set a target of bringing the bill to parliament by the middle of next year, at the latest.
He acknowledged the bill, which would also create a civil offence of sexual harassment and empower a tribunal to adjudicate disputes and hand down penalties, had lingered for too long.
“Let’s be honest. When you have policymakers dominated by males you may find that kind of thing is down the priority list,” he said.
“I want to make it clear to the country and to the women of this country that for our government it is not lower down the list. It is something we are concerned about.
“I can’t promise you we will be able to deal with the bill this calendar year but I hope we can deal with it before a full year of this government’s initial term.”
Reports ranged from frequent cat-calling while jogging or walking the dog, to serious sexual assault and even rape. Harassment in the workplace, including sexual propositions from bosses or managers, was also a common complaint.
Several women said they were made to feel as if their career success depended on how they responded in those situations.
While there are existing criminal offences that deal with some of the more serious behaviour, Panton acknowledged there were gaps in legislation that needed to be filled.
He added that addressing the issue in the workplace would be good for business as well as for society.
Although the issue affects men too, the Premier said the workplace power dynamic often made women more vulnerable.
“The really egregious incidences I have seen have always been men in positions of authority who can make good on their threats, whether they are expressed or implied,” he added.
The premier said the bill would help set national standards, but he encouraged people not to wait for legislation to think about how they behaved.
“If you are a father how would you want your daughter to be treated, how would you want people to be interacting with your wife, either socially, on the street doing errands or in the workplace… that is what I want men to think about.”
He said businesses had nothing to fear from the legislation which is simply designed to create fairer workplaces and a fairer, safer society.
Karlene Bramwell, of government’s Gender Affairs Unit, said the bill would also cover tenancy agreements, bars, education facilities and other institutions.
She added, “Everyone needs to get on board and be thinking about how do I protect the people who come to my establishment and how do I protect the people who work in my establishment? It is everybody’s business.”
Also speaking on the Crosstalk show, Bramwell encouraged men and women to take the issue seriously.
“This is not a woman’s fight, this is a society fight add if we want our children, boys, girls, men women to grow up in a safe society we all need to stand up and do what we need to do in order to protect people.”