Senate debates

Thursday, 18 March 2021


Archives and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021; Second Reading

5:27 pm

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

I rise to speak on the Archives and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 and this important fix, which will ensure that people who participate in the review being undertaken by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, can share their stories without fear of their identities or their stories being revealed against their wishes through the FOI process. The Greens supported and called for his important review into the culture of this building, those who work here and those who work for parliamentarians right around the country and are employed under the MOP(S) Act. We want staff members, former staff members and people who work in this building to be able to share their stories at that review and for their stories and submissions to be disclosed only with the consent of that person. We don't want complete randoms to be able to FOI someone's serious disclosure without their permission. The Greens have long supported strong and robust FOI laws. In fact, we would love to see an awful lot of reforms to freedom of information laws, including reduction in costs and diminution of existing loopholes, but that's a matter for another day. In this particular instance, we strongly support staff members being supported and encouraged to participate in this review. We will certainly be encouraging our staff members to do so, and I'm hopeful that this legislative fix will remove any chilling effects that might otherwise have applied.

There was quite a bit of chatter around the building this week because people were nervous that their stories, their confidences, would be revealed contrary to their wishes. We don't want this review to be undermined; we want this review to be as fulsome and comprehensive as it can be. We really want people to come forward. We want staff members, no matter what political party they work for, to come forward. It doesn't matter whether you're working in the early childhood education centre, in the press gallery—in whatever capacity you work in this building or for whomever you work—we want people to participate in this review. The fix that's been proposed in this bill will enable people to do so with confidence that their stories, their confidences, won't be revealed against their wishes. It is important that people can choose to share their stories if they so wish. That confidentiality is a right of the person making that disclosure, and we strongly support that. Staff members, if they are victims-survivors, deserve that right to make the call about whether their stories be made public or not.

I want to make just a few other remarks. I won't go too long, because I'm conscious that there are lots of folk who want to speak, and we've got only half an hour—which is a record short time to debate a bill, but I think we all appreciate the need for this to happen on an urgent basis. I'm grateful that in the terms of reference for the Jenkins review the government took on board the request that the Greens made—and it may well be that other parties ask for similar things—to make sure that former staffers' views could be considered and included and to make sure that folk in the building were covered, not just MOP(S) Act employees. The significance of that is that the press gallery are within scope for this culture review. Sadly, we know that some dodgy, sexist behaviour—unsafe workplaces, to varying degrees—has also plagued the press gallery, not just the offices of members of parliament. So, I'm grateful that that's within scope.

I'm also pleased that we're finally getting to this loophole. We've been asking for this to be fixed for a week, and the government did have a few quiet days there when it was sitting on the industrial relations bill. There's been an awful flurry today. I'm disappointed that we are doing this at the last minute, when the government had good notice that this was a loophole that needed to be fixed. Nevertheless, I'm grateful that we are now attending to fixing it.

On the drafting itself, I've had several reads of it. I'm not sure we'll have time for a committee stage but I want to flag my potential concern and I'll seek the reassurance of the relevant minister, if there's time for such a response. The wording of one of the limbs of what defines a 'document' potentially seems quite broad. Our concern is that drafts of any of the Jenkins reports or interim reports or recommendations would be out of scope. Whilst we want this review to proceed without interference, we also don't want the government to interfere with this review. So, if the Sex Discrimination Commissioner prepares a draft report then we would want for that to be FOI-able, because we'd want to see whether the government sought changes to that report.

With that caveat and with that question about the purpose of the second limb of that definition, we say that we support the bill. I understand that we're not able to move amendments, in any event, but I'm seeking your reassurance as to the intention behind that limb of the test. With that, I will finish by encouraging all staff members and workers in this building to engage in the Jenkins review. It's been a harrowing and revealing few weeks for many in this building. I think women have been on an emotional roller-coaster. Despite the emotional turmoil that talking about these matters provokes in so many of us, we cannot let this opportunity for reform pass us by. And I want to place on record my gratitude for the courage and the guts of all of the women who have come forward and for the people in the press gallery—mostly women, I might add—who have not let this issue drop off the radar. We cannot let sexism, misogyny and sexual assault and harassment fester in any workplace, let alone this workplace, which is looked to as an example for others.

So, let's get this culture review done. My final point is that I'm looking forward to the progress update of the Jenkins review—another request that the Greens made in the course of discussions about the terms of reference. We didn't want to wait until November to see the recommendations for what we expect to be an independent process. That's what we think should happen. We wanted to make sure the pressure was maintained and the momentum was maintained. So, we're looking forward to the progress update, which I understand is happening in July. With that, I conclude my remarks and signify the Greens' support for this bill.


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