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Friday, 16 December 1983
Page: 3984


Senator HAINES(1.33) —I have been asked by the Opposition to indicate at each clause whether the Australian Democrats intend to oppose or to support the amendments, in order merely to clarify things for the Opposition when it comes to calling divisions. I assure you, Mr Chairman, that this in no way cuts across our signalling system. But it is a matter of convenience for the Opposition. I say on these two amendments that the Democrats will not support the Opposition. We will not support the Opposition because, no matter what Senator Martin says, these two amendments significantly weaken the sexual harassment provisions of the Bill. It took some of us some considerable effort in the first place to strengthen the provisions in the original Bill.

In plain English, what the Opposition appears to be saying in these two amendments is this: Sexual harassment is when a person makes an explicit sexual advance of some sort; the other person then takes 'reasonable' steps to communicate that the advance or conduct, et cetera is unwelcome; and the harasser must make it 'reasonably' clear that the rejection of the advance would disadvantage the person in connection with that person's employment or that, as a result of rejection of the advance, that person would be disadvantaged in connection with that person's employment. That, of course, makes nonsense of Senator Martin's example of a man who is operating with no malice, because, if he is operating with no malice, quite clearly he has no intentions of prejudicing her employment or her advancement and, therefore, has no case to answer under the Act. So I am a little puzzled as to why Senator Martin brought up that particular example.

The other question that needs to be raised, of course, is what exactly is ' reasonable'. Senator Martin, I must admit, pointed out that there is a problem in this regard. What is reasonable to one person is not reasonable to another. As Senator Martin said, some men have to be hit over the head with a lump of wood before they can be persuaded that one really does not like them. In essence , however, the major problem with these amendments is that sexual harassment appears to be seen as an accepted art form, or piece of human behaviour, or at the very least they are saying: 'OK, have a go and see how far you get'. It perpetuates the power games that we have all been trying to end, in which first the oppressor does the harassing, the oppressed person reacts and then the power goes back once more to the oppressor, because, of course, it is the harasser who is given the right in this circumstance to decide whether the advance will affect the other person's job or future. Most importantly, these two amendments by the Opposition beg the whole question: If a woman believes that by not acceding to an advance she will be disadvantaged in her employment by the person making the advance, she will hardly believe that communicating the fact that she does not like the advance-or that the advance is unwelcome, that she does not like the person, or that she is not feeling like it today-or whatever-will not also disadvantage her. So the whole question is totally begged by the two amendments and the Democrats will most definitely oppose them.