Senate debates

Thursday, 18 March 2021


Archives and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021; Second Reading

5:23 pm

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Special Minister of State) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Archives and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021, since it was one of the things that the Labor Party requested of the government in the discussions on the terms of reference for the inquiry. I'd like to start by speaking directly to our staff, who are listening throughout the building. I'm sure they are gripped by what's going on here this afternoon, or by what might come across in the Hansard, as they make this place function. To our staff, I say: this is your workplace. You deserve nothing but a completely safe and supportive environment. As Labor parliamentarians we have a special duty to you, our staff: to fight for you internally just as hard as we fight for every worker across the country externally.

On 5 March this year the government announced that it would appoint the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, to conduct an independent review into workplaces of parliamentarians and their staff. Labor believes that all workplaces in Australia, including our nation's parliament, should be safe. We know, thanks to the courage of people like Brittany Higgins and the thousands of men and women who marched this week, that that isn't true. An independent review is an important step forward. As set out in the terms of reference, the aim of the review is to ensure that all Commonwealth parliamentary places are safe and respectful and that our national parliament reflects best practices in the prevention and handling of bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assaults. If the review is to achieve its aims, it's absolutely critical that as many current and former staff as possible participate. We need to listen to those staff, particularly women, who have had experiences in our workplaces that nobody should have had. The review process, led by Ms Jenkins, should provide an opportunity for people to tell their stories in a way that is confidential, private and safe. But, to ensure this, this parliament must ensure that all participants have confidence in that process.

Concerns have been raised by staff that, as the Human Rights Commission is subject to the Freedom of Information Act and the Archives Act, there is currently no guarantee that information submitted to the review will remain private. These concerns have been raised by Labor in discussions with the government over recent weeks. On Tuesday the Leader of the Opposition wrote to the Prime Minister indicating that Labor would support the issue being resolved before parliament rises for the Easter break. Yesterday a bipartisan group of current and former federal parliamentary staff members and their supporters wrote to the opposition leader and the Prime Minister expressing those same concerns. The bill introduced today is the product of negotiations between the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister. The bill ensures that current and former staff can have confidence that their privacy will be protected if they participate in the review. This bill exempts documents provided to the independent review or brought into existence by the review from being released under the Freedom of Information Act and the Archives Act, the latter for a period of 99 years, consistent with the status of royal commission documents.

I'd like to thank all current and former staff from all sides who have engaged in the review issues so far. I'd also like to thank the government for working with Labor to address this important issue. We all recognise that there is some way to go in this process and that staff must be at the centre of it. Labor hopes that the bill ensures that all those who want to participate in this review will have the confidence to do so following the passage of this legislation.


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