Universities have been urged to take sexual assault on campus seriously.
A federal parliamentary committee has called for a powerful independent task force to be set up to address a woeful culture of sexual assault response.
Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth said the government would not wait for the Universities Accord process to be completed before taking action.
The accord panel, which is working on major reform of the sector, released an interim report in July with a final report due in December.
The panel’s interim report found sexual assault and harassment on campus was “affecting the wellbeing of students and staff, and their ability to succeed”, with 16.1 per cent of students having been sexually harassed and 4.5 per cent sexually assaulted.
The parliamentary inquiry report separately concluded there was no confidence “that the university sector as a whole will respond appropriately to the crisis without strong intervention”.
“My call to universities is that they need to take this seriously,” Ms Rishworth told reporters in Canberra on Monday.
She said the responsibility sat with the sector itself but added the government would continue to work with universities and acknowledged “it’s not an issue that can be turned around overnight.”
Asked whether government intervention through regulation or legislation was on the table, she instead encouraged universities to take up evidence-based measures.
The parliamentary committee unanimously recommended a task force to address the problem.
Liberal senator and committee chair Paul Scarr said the case for action was overwhelming after pointing to testimony detailing that the handling of sexual assault allegations by tertiary institutions was more traumatising than the rape itself.
Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said the sector wasn’t shying away from the issue and recognised there was more to be done.
Education Minister Jason Clare has set up a working group to provide advice on student safety.
Ms Rishworth said she expected universities to “engage in a very active way to implement change on their campuses”.
“It is part of their core business to keep students safe on campuses.”
Lifeline 13 11 14
Fullstop Australia 1800 385 578
1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028