(CNN)A series of legal loopholes that prevent Australia's public servants -- including politicians and judges -- from being prosecuted for sexual harassment look like they are finally about to be closed following nearly 40 years on the statute books.
Australia's Sex Discrimination Act will soon apply to politicians. Why didn't it before?
The move comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison deals with the backlash over his handling of a string of allegations about the mistreatment of women in politics.
On Thursday, Morrison said in a news conference the government plans to amend the Sex Discrimination Act under measures designed to tackle sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. He said he hoped to pass the new laws by the end of June.
Morrison said sexual harassment was "immoral and despicable and even criminal," and "denies Australians, especially women, not just their personal security but their economic security by not being safe at work."
The changes were recommended in a March 2020 report by Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins. It took the government more than one year to announce amendments to the act.
The push to update the law comes with the country's political culture under scrutiny following a wave of allegations in the past two months of inappropriate sexual behavior in Parliament, including alleged harassment and rape.
In February a former staffer in Morrison's ruling Liberal Party said she had been raped in 2019 by a colleague while inside Parliament House in Canberra. Three weeks later, then-Attorney General Christian Porter revealed he had been accused of raping a woman in the late 1980s, which he strongly denied.
Morrison was strongly criticized for his response to the allegations. On March 15, thousands of women across Australia marched in protest to call for an end to violence against women and greater protections against sex crimes
Zali Steggall, an independent federal politician and lawyer, said the proposed changes to the law were a positive step, but she called on the government to make the changes quickly.
"The longer the delay is, the longer the behavior is not caught, and this is not retrospective legislation so it needs to be passed as soon as possible," she said.
Australia's Sex Discrimination Act was passed in 1984.
In a review of the law for the UNSW Law Journal on its 20th anniversary in 2004, Australian discrimination law expert Beth Gaze described it as "hesitant and rather ambivalent."
Gaze told CNN that under the Sex Discrimination Act, politicians and judges are not covered as they don't fall within the areas of employment where the legislation prohibits discrimination -- leaving them outside the protections of the act