Senate debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020



9:33 am

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I seek leave to move a motion relating to the consideration of the National Integrity (Parliamentary Standards) Bill 2019.

Leave not granted.

Pursuant to contingent notice standing in my name, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to provide that a motion relating to the consideration of the National Integrity (Parliamentary Standards) Bill 2019 be moved immediately and determined without amendment or debate.

This week we've heard some revelations about activities that many people have known for a long time have gone on in this building. It is long past time that women in this building are safe and that exploitative relationships between ministers and their staff end. We've called on the Prime Minister to show some leadership and to take action. All we've heard is that this isn't his problem, that these issues are in the past and that there's a process. We took a good look at that process, and it's full of holes. The process does not have any implications for the alleged abuser. There is no power for the finance department to discipline a member of parliament or a MOP(S) Act employee who is found to have sexually harassed, bullied or intimidated an employee in this building. This government has held up a process that is entirely inadequate and does not protect women.

Sadly, there is a legacy of poor behaviour in this building, and it's not just about sexual harassment. We've seen sports rorts and dodgy, doctored documents. The list of conduct, which is either corrupt or getting pretty close to it, is as long as your arm. That is not only why we need a federal integrity commission—which this Senate agreed with and passed my bill on more than a year ago, which has been languishing on the House Notice Papers—but also why we need an integrity commissioner and some parliamentary standards. At the minute, those ministerial standards are not only weak but discretionary. The Prime Minister chooses to turn a blind eye on so many occasions. They're not independently administered, and so frequently no consequences flow. That is why we need a code of conduct that is independently enforced, that has teeth and that actually applies to all MPs and their senior staff.

We have a suggestion—the process set out in the National Integrity (Parliamentary Standards) Bill 2019, which has been inquired into by this Senate. Surprise, surprise! The big parties said they didn't think it was needed. The government even went so far as to say, 'We should look at the existing process, and, if there are gaps, we should fill them.' The gaps are obvious. The gaps are that women have no recourse, their careers are over and they don't get to work in this town again. The MPs often get a promotion, and the women get blacklisted. The process that currently exists is weak and is an insult. It is making the problem worse.

We would like the Prime Minister to show some leadership and to fix the process. We've seen nothing from the Prime Minister this week—no leadership, no proposals and no acknowledgement that there is even a problem. We've put forward a suggestion for the Senate to consider. It's gone through inquiry. It would address not only sexual harassment, misconduct and abuse; it would address those other dodgy conducts that are not quite dodgy enough to be considered technical corruption, because our other bill will address that. So this is a sister bill to clean up the conduct of MPs in this building. We would like this matter addressed.

For too long, MPs have gotten away with abusing their power. So often it's the young female staffers that suffer the consequences. It's their careers that end, not the MP's. This building is not a safe workplace. We even saw the head of the ACTU yesterday describe this building as a high-risk workplace. The Prime Minister refuses to acknowledge there's even a problem. The process that does exist is discretionary because the Prime Minister's ministerial standards are completely up to him to enforce and they only apply to ministers. The Department of Finance's complaints process doesn't lead to any outcomes. It doesn't have any implications for MPs, because it's beyond their jurisdiction. This is a process that's been through inquiry, could be rolled out and would help address the cultural problems in this building. It would help clean up this toxic workplace and make sure that the standards that apply in other workplaces apply here too. It's not too much to ask. This is the parliament's 'Me Too' moment, and it's incumbent on all of us to be part of the solution. I hope that this national integrity bill, which is a counterpart bill to my ICAC bill, is taken seriously and I hope that we see the Prime Minister acknowledge the problem and do something about it.


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