House debates

Tuesday, 30 November 2021


Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces

7:50 pm

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There are a lot of very important reports that come to this place, but not all of them get the attention and the action they deserve. Today we received Kate Jenkins's report, Set the standard: report on the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces. It found that one in three people employed in our parliamentary workplace has experienced some kind of harassment and that women experience sexual harassment and bullying at a higher rate than men. It's called out our environment, where power imbalances, gender inequality and exclusion, and a lack of accountability mean that too many people experience bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

This report must not be one of the ones that do not get action. Today must mark the end of impunity in this place. It must mark the end of a culture that has existed for far too long. It is time to change this parliament to make it a safe workplace for all women, and it's not just our parliament that needs to change; we've got to make our community and our homes safe for all women. We've got to shift gender roles in this country so that we are all equal. We owe that to Brittany Higgins. We owe it to all the staff and to all the members who contributed to this report.

It's an immense privilege to be elected to this place and to represent the people of Australia. The report notes the pride that so many people who are elected and who work in this place feel when they start their work. But it also makes it clear that that sense of pride doesn't last, because the standard that this parliament sets doesn't meet that expectation of service.

Australian women are rightly appalled by what they've heard about and seen in our parliament. Australian women deserve better than a parliament where women are assaulted and bullied. They deserve better than a parliament where allegations get swept under the carpet; are used as fodder for gossip or political gain; or are not thoroughly and independently investigated and ultimately end without consequences for perpetrators. What happens in this place matters. We are the workplace that Australians see on their TVs every night. The standards we set are the standards they see, and we can't change the country and our community if we can't change how we operate in this place.

The report is comprehensive and it must be considered in full, but I want to highlight a few areas that I think are crucial. As Kate Jenkins said today, there is a need for leadership. She said:

Leaders set the tone and leadership from the top is particularly important to set clear expectations and role model safe and respectful behaviour.

I urge the leaders in this parliament—the Prime Minister in particular—to take that leadership responsibility seriously. Don't just rely on the women in this place to make the change. We need the men to stand with us and make this change with us. We need you to be part of the leadership that drives the change that we need to see. The report recommends a code of conduct for parliamentarians and for parliamentarians' staff. It is ridiculous that, as elected representatives, we don't have a code of conduct that we adhere to. And, of course, it recommends an independent parliamentary services commission to make sure that there is an independent place where people can take complaints, where complaints are independently investigated and where standards are set and dealt with.

Earlier this year I co-authored a book, Enough is Enough, with my predecessor as the member for Jagajaga, Jenny Macklin. It drew on her extensive experience as a parliamentarian and my shorter experience as a parliamentarian, to talk about the change that needs to happen in this place to make it safe for women. Working on the book has meant that I've had many conversations with women across the country about what they think is happening in this place and what needs to happen. Too many of those conversations have been with women who thought they might want to be involved—they might want to run for office—but now feel like this is not a safe place for them to work. It is ridiculous that women look at us as a parliament and think, 'It's not safe; I don't want to work there,' and that we do not represent the diversity of our communities. Women and people from diverse communities should absolutely feel that they can be safe in this place. We need to improve that. Our parliament would benefit from diversity from both women and people from diverse communities.

It has been a really difficult year for Australian women. Again I say thank you to Brittany Higgins, Grace Tame and all the other women around Australia who have led this really important conversation. Women started this year with anger and with hope that things will change. I know some feel disappointed that things haven't changed enough yet. We have to keep the fight up, and today must be the day that we say enough is enough. (Time expired)