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Leadership & Management

Are reforms enough to eradicate ‘unacceptable’ behaviour in Parliament?

Health Industry Hub | February 8, 2024 |

Leadership & Management: On the second anniversary of the adoption of the Set the Standard report, senators acknowledged the persistently high rates of bullying, sexual harassment, and assault experienced by individuals, particularly women, within Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces.

Senator Susan Lines, President of the Senate, acknowledged the disturbingly high prevalence of bullying and sexual misconduct, especially towards women, in Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces. She stated “This misconduct is unacceptable, and I acknowledge the grave impact it had, or continues to have, on previous and current staff. We must remain committed to building a workplace reflecting the nation’s values and expectations, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of everyone who works in and supports the Parliament of Australia.”

Senator Katy Gallagher, Minister for Finance, Women, and Public Service, highlighted the courage of current and former staff and elected representatives who shared their experiences with the former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins.

“As a parliament, we committed to do better, acknowledging that, while it should be a workplace that leads by example, it was not,” she commented.

Senator Gallagher also noted the progress made in implementing the report’s recommendations, stating, “Thirteen recommendations have been implemented, with all other recommendations in progress, partially implemented, or requiring ongoing work.”

Despite the deeply entrenched culture and the urgency of reforms, Senator Perin Davey, Deputy Leader of the Nationals in the Senate, emphasised the importance of careful consideration in implementing recommendations to avoid unintended consequences. She stated, “We don’t want to accidentally create a situation where we, by trying to address issues, create something that might have more risk.”

Leader of the Australian Greens in the Senate, Senator Larissa Waters, acknowledged positive steps, such as establishing an independent, trauma-informed parliamentary workplace support service. However, she expressed concern over the ongoing delay in establishing an Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission (IPSC) with enforcement powers, stating, “That IPSC was expected in October 2023. That time frame was first extended until February this year and has now blown out one whole year until October 2024. This is the second extension, and, without this body, bad behaviour continues to go unchecked. We know that, without real prospects that an MP will be sanctioned, staff are reluctant to come forward. Consequences are crucial.”

Senator Waters highlighted the urgency of creating a safe workplace for a more diverse range of people, especially for First Nations people, people of colour, and people with disabilities who may experience even worse harassment and disrespect when working in parliamentary roles.

“We are deeply sorry, and we have to be better – every single one of us, every single day,” she commented.

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