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Women - Sexual Harassment

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 9 September 2021

Tags: Women, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - I’m interested in exploring with you from a women's policy perspective how we can make sure women and girls don't feel discouraged from coming forward with allegations of sexual harassment, for example. I ask you this, because in recent weeks - and I'm not going to go into any details on any of the matters - but I've had a number of concerning conversations with young women particularly, who've observed what has happened to women who've come forward. They feel very disheartened about the merits of coming forward, should they feel that they've been harassed or discriminated against in the workplace. What's your response to that and how do we make sure that women and girls feel empowered?

Ms HOWLETT - It's a really important question. I have a 13 year- old daughter, and over the last four or five weeks we've had many conversations over the dinner table about how important it is to speak out and to have that courage to talk about any issues, whether it be something that's occurring at school or something in your workplace. It's important that we give our children and women and everyone in the workforce the courage to be able to come out. It's important that everyone feels safe, feels respected in their workplace and they feel like they can speak if there is an issue that they feel uncomfortable about.

Ms O'CONNOR - Agreed. And so, is there any policy development or examination of programs that might reaffirm, particularly to young women, that they have the right to feel safe in their workplace and should they come forward that they'll be treated with respect, their claims will be investigated and they will be supported by their employer or supported in their workplace?

Ms HOWLETT - That is really important and must include a robust and trusted complaints process and access to health services if a woman is fleeing from domestic violence. We need to make sure that we can provide that service. We also need to make sure that if she is in work we are making sure that she is paid while she is at work.

Robust conversations need to occur. Any instance where this has not occurred should be called out. I commend the Premier for his actions this week.

As members of parliament it's something we all have a responsibility to do and to work together. People spend more time in their workplace than they do at home.

Ms O'CONNOR - Unless they are sleeping. Minister, the question in a way was an opportunity for you to consider whether there is capacity to invest some resourcing in the Women's Policy Unit into an education and empowerment program. Like your conversation with your daughter, I've had a conversation with my 21 year old, I have had a conversation with a younger colleague, I've had conversations in the community among representatives of the media, for example, who are women and there is this general feeling of disheartenment that we have not come anywhere near far enough. That has a potentially negative impact because it might stop young women, or women generally, from coming forward.

Will you consider asking the department to examine how we might counter that?

Ms HOWLETT - Absolutely. I think we have come far too far. We do not want to be going backwards. We cannot go backwards.

Ms O'CONNOR - It feels like we are going backwards. I am 54 years old and I am telling you, it feels like we are going backwards.

Ms HOWLETT - The next women's strategy is currently under development and is due for completion in December this year. I am very keen for us to have a collaborative approach and seek input from everyone around the table. Your information is powerful in helping me developing this strategy. I would really love it if we could collaborate.

Ms O'CONNOR - That would be great because women have the numbers now in the Tasmanian Parliament across politics. We have the numbers. The community really loves to see members of parliament working together. Women are capable of working together and leaving their egos aside. I strongly encourage you to make those steps.

Ms HOWLETT - That is really important. Being in this portfolio, this is the one thing that I want to get right.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, you want to get it all right, minister. You want to get it all right, but this is one thing you really want to focus on.

Ms HOWLETT - That is right, I totally agree.