Australia's PM Scott Morrison to end sexual harassment exemption for politicians

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison plans to close the legal loophole.
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison plans to close the legal loophole. Photo credit: Getty Images

Australia's Prime Minister will close a loophole that exempts politicians and judges from rules against sexual harassment at work. 

The move comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison faces criticism over his Government's handling of a string of sex abuse scandals.

According to ABC News, Morrison told reporters on Thursday his government will begin work to reconstruct Australia's sexual discrimination laws so they can hold members of parliament, judges and public servants to account.

"Sexual harassment is unacceptable," Morrison said.

"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." 

Currently, Australian members of parliament, judges, public servants and some employers of volunteers are exempt from complaints concerning gender discrimination in the workplace due to a legal loophole. 

The loophole says they are technically not the complainant's employer, therefore excused from the complaint. Despite this, they can still be criminally charged over sexual harassment or abuse. 

Morrison said the legal change proposed will ensure everyone is "on as much of a playing field as possible."

The Government also plans to extend the amount of time in which a complainant can report an incident from six months to two years.

The changes were in response to recommendations made by the "Respect@Work" report which was handed down more than a year ago after a national enquiry into sexual harassment.

Morrison has faced criticism for failing to act on the report's recommendations for more than a year. On Thursday he rejected this criticism and said he would adopt all 55 recommendations.

The announcement follows a series of sex abuse allegations including one in February where a former Liberal staffer alleged she was raped by another Liberal Party staffer inside a parliamentary office. 

In March Christian Porter identified himself to be the minister at the centre of a 1988 rape allegation. 

The allegations sparked scrutiny of Morrison's government and nationwide protests against sexual abuse and harassment of women.