Senate debates

Tuesday, 30 November 2021


Australian Human Rights Commission

4:58 pm

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

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

Today, after many months of diligent work, Commissioner Kate Jenkins has handed down her report into the Commonwealth parliamentary workplace, entitled, Set the standard: report on the independent review into Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces. I acknowledge the work of the commissioner and her staff on this report and the 28 recommendations that she has provided to us for change. Following the many issues that have surfaced in this building over the previous months, it was right that an independent review take place so that we can work to change the culture of Parliament House. Labor supported the independent review and encouraged participation and submissions from former and current staff as well as former and current parliamentarians.

Many reflections and opinions will be made on this report in coming days. Parliamentarians from all sides will rightly express their outrage and dismay at the culture of this building and the troubling statistics that were published in this report. However, today, in one of the first responses to the report, I want to address our own staff, both former and current. I entered this place in 2008 after decades as a union official, after decades focused on improving the conditions of working people. It is with that focus that I speak to this report today.

The culture of this building has failed our staff, and any delay in rectifying the issues presented in this report represents further failure. Should these statistics be published in any other workplace, we would be rightly and justifiably outraged. That it is occurring in the nation's parliament makes it even worse. To our staff, I say: this is your workplace. You deserve to be safe at work and you deserve to be supported at your workplace. You deserve to contribute to the government of this nation without compromising your safety or wellbeing. To each of you who has been in contact with our staff and our offices or contributed to the review through submissions and interviews, I want to say thank you. Whatever your contribution to this review or through our offices, you have helped the culture change in this parliament. You have pushed it a little bit more in the right direction.

Labor will review the recommendations published by the commissioner thoroughly. We will consult with our staff and continue to work in a bipartisan manner to improve the culture of this building wherever it is possible. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.

5:02 pm

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

I rise to make some brief remarks on Set the standard, a landmark report handed down today by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. It really blows the lid on the toxic culture that's been allowed to fester in parliament for far too long. Again, as I did in question time, I want to acknowledge the courage and metal of outstanding, brave, courageous young women like Brittany Higgins, Chelsey Potter, Dhanya Mani, Saxon Mullins, Grace Tame and so many others who have spoken out and who have led to this report being commissioned and drafted. I also want to thank very sincerely everyone who participated. There was a very large number of participants, and that's very welcomed, because one of the alarming statistics in this report was that 11 per cent of people who experienced bullying, harassment or assault report that. That's 89 per cent of survivors who stay silent. I'm very grateful that this inquiry and this report allowed many more people to speak up to share their experiences so that collectively as an institution we can learn from that and never, ever repeat the mistakes of the past.

I'm alarmed that the government have not yet been unequivocal in saying whether they will adopt these recommendations. I did ask that in question time, and I just wasn't quite reassured that the government did in fact intend to adopt and implement all the recommendations. I would love to be reassured of that, because you can't accept a report like this and then just say, 'Oh, look, it's up to all of us; we'll come back to you later.' That's not good enough. We need the government to finally show some leadership and say, 'Yes, we will adopt all of the 28 recommendations. We will do so in a fully funded way, and we will do so in the time frame that Commissioner Jenkins recommended.' That was the reassurance that I had hoped to hear and that I have not yet heard, and I express my concern that that's the case.

When half of our staff in this building, and employees more broadly under the MoPS Act, have experienced harassment, bullying or actual assault it's long past time that this issue was addressed and long past time that the culture that underpins that is changed. We don't have enough women in this place and we certainly don't have enough women of colour in this place. We don't have enough women around the decision-making table and we haven't had enough men in leadership positions, particularly in the governing party, who have called this toxic culture out. I have been incredibly disheartened to see the conduct of the Prime Minister in excusing and permitting awful conduct by some of his male ministers. He has not brought former minister Christian Porter to task and he has not removed committee roles from people who have been accused by constituents of harassment. He has not taken to task chiefs of staff of members of his own government who, allegedly, were harassing volunteers. And just last week he used standover tactics when a female member of his own party crossed the floor.

This is not the sort of leadership that the country deserves and it is not the sort of leadership that will make for a safe workplace. The Prime Minister needs to read this report; maybe he needs to have a chat to his wife about it? He then needs to commit to implementing the 28 recommendations—all of them. I hope that's what occurs. If he won't do that then he needs to get out of the way. As I've said on many occasions, I look forward to him not being our Prime Minister anymore.

I very much support the recommendations in this report and I'm very pleased to see the recommendation for an independent complaints mechanism; that has long been the reason for many staff not pursuing complaints. They felt like the process wasn't independent and they felt that consequences would not flow when their abuser was their boss or was some other member of parliament. It's important that we redress that. I'm also very pleased to see the code of conduct recommended. When today we saw dog-growling noises while a female senator was asking a question, it's pretty clear that we need a code of conduct. We shouldn't need a code of conduct to know not to do that sort of thing when a woman is on her feet but, hey, here we are.

So we very much welcome this report and, again, commend everyone who was involved and commend the enormous effort, time and expertise shown by the Human Rights Commission in conducting this investigation and bringing it together in a landmark and important report.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.