CWSW calls for reforms to the Equal Opportunity Act

Reforms to the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA) are vital to eradicating and preventing sexual harassment.

The Centre for Women’s Safety and Wellbeing (CWSW) is dismayed by the announcement from the State Government that the reforms to the Equal Opportunity Act will be delayed until after March 2025 and beyond. 

These reforms are urgent to improve responses to sexual harassment in Western Australia! The laws currently do not work for victims of sexual harassment with the Equal Opportunity Commission being hamstrung by the current framework. CWSW is  aware of complainants choosing to take their workplace sexual harassment complaints to the Federal Australian Human Rights Commission instead despite experiencing longer wait times through that pathway.

WA is the only place in Australia with a “disadvantage test” for sexual harassment complainants. This effectively renders the complaints process to the Equal Opportunity Commission completely ineffective and prevents legitimate sexual harassment claims being progressed. The requirement for a complainant to “prove” disadvantage only serves to provide barriers to making complaints.

The compensation cap has not been updated since the Act came into effect in 1985. With the rates of inflation, and to reflect modern currency, the minimum amount should be amended to $140,000. The current $40,000 cap makes any process through the Equal Opportunity Commission not worth the effort put in by complainants and is out of line with other jurisdictions and best practice.

The Act must extend sexual harassment protections to members of parliament and parliament staff, judicial officers and court staff, local government councillors and staff and unpaid or volunteer workers.  Members of parliament, their staff and members of the judiciary must be liable for and protected from sexual harassment, consistent with any other workplace arrangement.

Additionally, the current legal framework only provides protection for workplace sexual harassment, the Act must be amended as a matter of urgency to extend this protection to other areas of public life, especially as these incidents will not be captured by other complaints avenues.

Numerous inquiries at both the State and Federal level have highlighted the pervasive nature of sexual harassment, particularly in Western Australia and made recommendations that insist on changes to the Equal Opportunity Act 1984. Underpinning those findings has been the complexity of different regulatory frameworks and the urgent need to align legislation and definitions across Australia to ensure consistency and create safe pathways for victim-survivors. 

With the new Commonwealth positive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment commencing next month, it is imperative Western Australia commits to implementing this Respect@Work recommendation consistent with those made by the LRC to reduce confusion for both employers and victim-survivors. 

Importantly, given the high rates of domestic and family violence in our State it is vital that the recommendation from the Law Reform Commission review to introduce a new ground to protect victim-survivors of domestic and family violence from discrimination is implemented. Discrimination against victim-survivors can have devastating consequences and can compound the harm caused by ongoing or past experiences of domestic and family violence.



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