We wish to acknowledge the land of the traditional owners on which we are meeting – the Gadigal People of the Eora nation. We acknowledge their leaders, past present and emerging and the fact that this was, and always will be Aboriginal land.

This is our second AGM.

Our focus as a Board over financial year 2018-2019 has been on building a solid foundation for NOW Australia.

By June 2018, it was clear to the Board that that NOW Australia had been pulled together too quickly. We agreed that we needed to stop and take the time to consult with the gendered violence and legal sectors. In addition, we needed to undertake research into the drivers behind sexual harassment in the workplace so we could develop a vision for the organisation that was based on empirical research. In short, we spent time listening and learning.

Based on the extensive consultation work conducted by the interim Executive Director, Kristine Ziwica, between June and December 2018 and the research conducted to create our comprehensive submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces, we were able to draw the following conclusions:

  • Sexual harassment at work is widespread and prevalent in Australia
  • Under international law, sexual harassment is recognised as a form of violence against women.
  • Sexual harassment is driven by gender inequality.
  • Sexual harassment is part of an entrenched culture.
  • Sexual harassment disproportionately affects some people including LGBTQI+, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people and people with disabilities.
  • Sexual harassment most commonly impacts mental health.
  • Most people do no report sexual harassment or seek support
  • There are significant barriers to reporting sexual harassment, including victimisation, impact on employment, lack of workplace response, individual perceptions, time limits, costs, defamation law and inadequate protection for whistleblowers.
  • The regulatory response to sexual harassment is inadequate
  • There is a lack of specialist sexual harassment support.

We understand that, going forward, it will be essential to work toward financial viability and stability. We now have a comprehensive business plan, designed with the current landscape in mind. We also have a three year strategic plan that is built upon the 17 recommendations and 9 guidelines within our AHRC submission. These documents provide a strong foundation for us to engage with potential philanthropists, business partners and donors.

We want to ensure that everyone in Australia experiences a safe, fair, dignified workplace that is free of sexual harassment and related retaliation.

It is vital that we change change the attitudes, behaviours, social norms and practices that lead to sexual harassment in the workplace.

In order to achieve these objectives, we propose to partner with leading advocates for equality and safety to:

  • Prevent sexual harassment and related retaliation in Australian workplaces
  • Lobby for stronger regulation of sexual harassment.
  • Ensure that people who experience workplace sexual harassment receive adequate assistance and support.

In short, we believe that key to eliminating sexual harassment in Australian workplaces involves three interrelated steps:

  1. Better prevention
  2. Stronger regulation
  3. More effective support.

This approach ensures we are a collaborative organisation that supports the structural changes essential to reshaping the landscape so that sexual harassment is eradicated from Australian workplaces.

Over the past 12 months, unfortunately, the conversation in Australia, has been focused too often on solely equating the success of #metoo with convictions resulting from disclosures. As Tarana Bourke says #metoo is about naming what happened and healing rather than focussing on convictions.

There’s no doubt there is an epidemic of abuse. We are aware that sexual harassment in the workplace is the tip of the iceberg. As Tarana Burke has pointed out:

  • We don’t talk enough about child sexual abuse
  • We don’t talk enough about rape on campuses
  • We don’t talk enough about spousal sexual assault
  • We don’t talk enough about LGBTQI community, First Nations people, people with disability or other groups pushed to the margins.

At NOW Australia, we understand that sexual harassment is merely one form of violence against women and disproportionately affects some people including LGBTQI+, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people and people with disabilities. In short, we are committed to adopting an intersectional approach in all our work.

We are proud of our achievements so far:

  • A comprehensive submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC)

National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

  • Our involvement in the Power to Prevent Campaign led by Victoria Legal Aid
  • Our involvement in Fair Agenda’s Election Scorecard
  • Our support of Gender Equality Victoria in their creation of an excellent bystander resource to combat sexism and online harassment.

We are currently working with Justice Connect on a funding proposal to develop an Online Sexual Harassment Tool that will guide help-seekers through a user-friendly process so they can find plain language practical legal information on sexual harassment and, where appropriate, connect them to legal assistance.

There is an enormous opportunity ahead of us to create change. We are in this for the long haul. We hope that our collaborators and all Australians can build trust with us and that we can work together to end sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.

There is a long legacy of expertise and practice in the sphere of gendered violence in Australia and we acknowledge and thank the many game-changers who have worked so hard for reform in this space for so long. They have done so with minimal resources and insufficient recognition. We both appreciate and applaud their efforts. We are committed to working with them to achieve meaningful change.

We were very lucky to have attracted high quality individuals to our NOW Board. Thank you

Professor Nareen Young, Avril Henry, Tasneem Chopra and Katherine Teh for your contribution, wisdom and support. Thank you Alicia Chisholm, Irene Yu and Dion Pretorius who joined the Board earlier this year. Sara Mansour and Erica Lovell have decided not to stand for re-election this year while Deputy Chair Katrina Irawati-Graham is. We are most thankful Sara and Erica of your insight during your time as Directors. We have conducted a skills analysis of the Board and will be filling the three vacancies in line with this.

We are a volunteer organisation like so many others in this space. We, as a Board, made the decision that we needed an Executive Director, even if only part-time, to help us drive change. We would like to acknowledge the extraordinary contribution of our Interim Executive Director, Kristine Ziwica, in the first half of this financial year and our Executive Director, Dr Genevieve Burnett, who took the role in May this year. Kristine and Genevieve, thank you for your paid and your unpaid work.

We would also like to acknowledge the contribution of our Steering Committee members and the support of our donors.

We have worked closely with many organisations and individuals over this year, including Justice Connect, Victoria Legal Aid and the 100+ groups involved in the game-changing Power to Prevent Campaign. So many have generously shared time, advice and knowledge as we have scoped our path and we are so grateful. We look forward to working together as we move forward.

We now have a comprehensive and impressive business plan, designed with the current landscape in mind. This provides a strong foundation for us to engage with potential philanthropists, business partners and donors.

We have been extremely cautious in relation to our expenses. These expenses have been in the majority, salary costs for our part-time Interim Executive Director and our Executive Director. Shortly, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) will release the results of its National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment, which is a world first. Other expenses include the engagement of a consultant to ensure our submission to AHRC was one of substance. There have also been the necessary operating expenses including insurance costs, bookkeeping and the necessary subscription fees for email accounts, and related admin costs. The Board meets via teleconference to avoid travel costs and accommodate our diverse locations.

We are excited about the opportunity that lies ahead with the forthcoming release of the AHRC’s report resulting from the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment into Australian Workplaces, which we understand will be released in February 2020.

As a result of the inquiry, important conversations have been had and consensus is building amongst survivors, experts and service providers, both counselling and legal, about how we can tackle this wicked problem.

We look forward to working with them, many of whom have carried this work long before NOW’s existence, to little fanfare, to make those recommendations a reality as we push together for change.

Thank you.