Frustration over sexual harassment reforms

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The woman behind new laws to tackle sexual harassment has expressed frustration at the federal government's "missed opportunity" to put the onus of prevention on employers.

The government backed some of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins' recommendations regarding legislation changes.

But the coalition voted down amendments by Labor, the Greens and crossbenchers, including to make preventing sexual harassment an employer responsibility.

Ms Jenkins has expressed frustration at the failure to write into the Sex Discrimination Act a positive duty for employers to be proactive in preventing sexual harassment.

"The one that is a missed opportunity and is central is the positive duty in the Sex Discrimination Act," she told a national summit on women's safety on Monday.

"I would just say it's not off the agenda even though it's frustrating."

The Morrison government in April signalled its intention to focus on those of the 55 proposals it accepted outright.

"Governments don't open the Sex Discrimination Act that much to amend, so I really welcome that advocacy to say 'well while you're at it, why don't you do the rest'," Ms Jenkins said.

"Who's in government is in government, so I guess I'm a bit pragmatic about that. But I'm not letting go.

"They haven't said 'no' to most of those other recommendations."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison used his speech to the summit to detail some of the hundreds of letters and emails he'd received from sexual violence survivors.

One was from a 74-year-old Queensland woman who spoke of 60 years of suffering following her rape at age 14.

"Through all the letters and emails, I felt that rage, the dread and the frustration that our culture is not changing," Mr Morrison said.

But survivors criticised what they saw as hypocrisy from prime minister and his government.

Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins tweeted she "can't match this government's actions with the platitudes and warm sentiments they are all extending today".

Ms Higgins earlier this year ignited a wave of anger and protests after going public with her alleged rape by a colleague in a minister's office in 2019.

Australian of the Year and sexual assault survivor Grace Tame said Mr Morrison had "appropriated private disclosures from survivors to leverage his own image".

"Gee, I bet it felt good to get that out," she added, echoing what she said were the prime minister's words to her following her award speech earlier this year.

Mr Morrison said he wanted all women and girls to live without fear, noting federal spending on initiatives as being a down payment on the next national women's safety plan.

"I want their humanity, their dignity, their innate worth as a human being and the freedoms to which they're entitled to be respected," Mr Morrison said.

Ministers from Labor states called on the federal government to take responsibility, including by properly implementing all of Ms Jenkins' recommendations.

This was backed by Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese who, alongside the state and territory ministers for women, urged the government to address social housing shortages.

"This is a scourge on society and we need to do much better when it comes to ensuring women can feel safe in the workplace and in the home," Mr Albanese said.

Federal Women's Safety Minister Anne Ruston labelled social housing a state responsibility, but said the commonwealth helped with funding.

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