A 'world-first' national inquiry into workplace sexual harassment has been announced.

Australian women who have been sexually harassed at work will be empowered to help create positive change on a national scale.

A national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces will today be announced by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins and Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer.

Commissioner Jenkins described the national inquiry as a “huge step in the right direction” for creating a society where sexual harassment is “unthinkable”.

She confirmed the inquiry is on the back of a global conversation about sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement, which exposed the true prevalence of the problem that until last year was largely left hidden.

The national inquiry – which to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s knowledge is the first of its kind internationally – will involve an in-depth examination of sexual harassment in the workplace, nationwide consultation and extensive research, Commissioner Jenkins explained.

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“Importantly, the inquiry will provide employees, employers and all members of the public with an opportunity to participate in developing a solution to ensure Australian workplaces are safe and respectful for everyone,” she said.

Harvey Weinstein’s exposure as an alleged sexual predator in October 2017 sparked a series of accusations against high-profile celebrities and people in the media, both in the US and in Australia.

But a criticism of the movement has been that it hasn’t created any real change for women who are harassed or abused by colleagues or bosses who are not famous or in high-profile positions.


Commissioner Jenkins said the inquiry aims to help stamp out sexual harassment in all its forms.

“We need to continue working to create a society where this kind of conduct is unthinkable, and where sexual harassment at work is not something people simply have to put up with.

“I believe this national inquiry is a huge step in the right direction.”

Tracey Spicer, who in March launched a not-for-profit organisation to help survivors of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace and across all industries, shared the news on Twitter this morning.

“Thanks to [Kelly O’Dwyer] and [Australian Human Rights Commission] for taking charge to create structural change in the wake of the #metoo movement,” she wrote.

“This is something I’ve been privately agitating for since October. Brava!”

‘Sexual harassment rates on the rise’

The results of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s fourth national survey into workplace sexual harassment are expected to be released in August.

Commissioner Jenkins said early indications show that rates of sexual harassment have increased significantly since the last survey was conducted in 2012, but did not indicate whether this may be due to increased reporting.

“The Commission will use the findings of the national survey to identify the scale and nature of the problem across a range of industry sectors.

“We will examine the current Australian legal framework on sexual harassment, including a review of complaints made to state and territory anti-discrimination agencies.

“In making our recommendations, we will consider the changing work environment and existing good practice being undertaken by employers to prevent and respond to workplace sexual harassment.”