New laws governing discrimination on the grounds of sex and age have been passed by the Federal Parliament.

A position of Age Discrimination Commissioner has been created in the Australian Human Rights Commission for the first time.

Attorney General, Robert McClelland said the new laws would provide stronger protections for employees and students from sexual harassment.

“The workplace and schools should be places where people feel respected, valued and safe,” Mr McClelland said. “They are not places for intimidation or sexual harassment.”

He said the changes recognised that sexual harassment could occur in many different forms in the workplace so they expand the protections to include sexual harassment from co-workers or supervisors, colleagues in other organisations or customers and clients.

He said the Sex and Age Discrimination Legislation Amendment Bill 2010would also provide greater protections by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of family responsibilities for both men and women in all areas of employment; establishing breastfeeding as a separate ground of discrimination; and bringing in new protections for students from sexual harassment, including over the internet or by texting.

Mr McClelland said the creation of the Age Discrimination Commissioner would tackle attitudes and stereotypes that contribute to discrimination of all ages.

“The Government strongly believes people susceptible to age discrimination – young or old - deserve a dedicated advocate,” he said.

“The new Commissioner will play an important role in raising awareness among employers about the benefits that can be realised from the valuable contributions that senior Australians as well as younger employees can make, including in the workforce.”

Minister for the Status of Women, Kate Ellis said the proposed amendments were timely given 2011 was the centenary year of International Women’s Day.

“By explicitly extending harassment and discrimination protections to include family responsibilities and the right of women to breastfeed, these amendments will make a positive difference for employees around the country,” Ms Ellis said.

“Recognition of this in these changes to the Sex Discrimination Act legislation will ensure that parents can now be protected when making equitable choices for their work and caring responsibilities,” she said.