Tuesday, 30 November 2021
Questions without Notice
Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. The Human Rights Commission's comprehensive report Set the standard is a much-needed reality check on the cultural and structural changes needed in this place. We have the bravery of people like Brittany Higgins, Rachelle Miller, Chelsey Potter, Dhanya Mani, Saxon Mullins, Grace Tame, Chanel Contos and strong women in the press gallery to thank for this report existing. I'd also like to thank every single participant who shared their stories and their trauma to create this report. When half the staff who work here have experienced bullying, sexual assault or harassment and only 11 per cent report it, we need action. Can the minister confirm that no staffer or MP in this building will be subject to an experience and a bungled response like Brittany Higgins had to endure? Will the government commit to fully implementing all of the recommendations in this landmark report, fully funded and in the time frames Commissioner Jenkins recommends?
I thank Senator Waters for the question and acknowledge her engagement with me through the course of this year—as I acknowledged, before, engagement from across this chamber and the other chamber, and of staff, current and former, in relation to the commissioning of this work and also in relation to the actions the government has taken in response to Stephanie Foster's recommendations earlier this year.
I think, in responding as we did, as a parliament, to Stephanie Foster's recommendations, we have shown that this parliament and this government recognise the need for action—that these reports, these recommendations and the events of this year need to be a turning point and a driver of change. The actions we have taken this year—in relation to delivering new support services and counselling services; in relation to delivering new training mechanisms across the parliament and ensuring transparency about MPs' and senators' take-up of those training mechanisms; and in relation to establishing the new Parliamentary Workplace Support Service to handle complaints, and putting in place procedures to ensure that people are held to account for recommendations in response to those complaints, all the way through to members of parliament—demonstrate a willingness to act. That willingness to act follows through, now, to the recommendations in the Jenkins report.
We want to see response to these recommendations in the most positive and wholesome and fulsome way possible. What I would say—through you, Mr President—to Senator Waters is that we want to make sure that we continue to engage with you, the opposition and other parties' crossbenchers and with staff, current and former, to make sure we get the responses to this right. We have funded responses to date. We've acted to date. We will continue to do that. And I, of course, join you, as I have already, publicly and in here, in acknowledging all of those who participated in this review and drove it to this point. (Time expired)
Commissioner Jenkins has said that one of the most common themes raised by those who made submissions was the critical role of leaders in creating and maintaining a safe, respectful and inclusive workplace. It comes from the top. When we see the Prime Minister refuse to allow an independent investigation into allegations against a senior minister, refuse to remove a member accused of harassing constituents from committee roles and take aside a female member who dared to cross the floor for a 'pastoral care chat', what message is that sending from the top?
I don't—on this day, in receipt of this report, with its recommendations that do require us to work collectively and together to effectively implement them—wish to politicise the report, or actions in response to it, in the way that Senator Waters's question invites me to do. As I said before, the events of this year are a catalyst for change. The events of this year have been a catalyst for the types of changes that we have already implemented together, as a parliament, and for the work that Commissioner Jenkins has undertaken, with the engagement of so many staff, current and former, and so many members of parliament, current and former. I thank, indeed, those who particularly had interviews with Commissioner Jenkins as part of this process, as I did, in terms of ensuring that all of her thinking and recommendations could be fully informed by how to get the best possible outcomes, to set the best possible standard. (Time expired)
Another strong theme in the report is that there are rarely any consequences for the abuser if a complaint is made about bullying, sexual harassment or sexual assault—in fact, often they get promoted—while the complainant suffers the consequences: being gas-lit, frozen out of work, moved on or encouraged to quit. Will the government commit to introducing a code of conduct for politicians and senior staff that would provide real consequences and act as a genuine deterrent to bad behaviour?
I touched, in my primary answer, on the question of consequences and the fact that the work we have already done this year ensures that we have put in place processes that mean that if recommendations, through an independent process, are made, in response to an allegation of workplace bullying, harassment or the like, those recommendations need to be acted on, and that there are transparent and public consequences, including for members of parliament, if that's not the case. Commissioner Jenkins' recommendations built upon that and we want to work to ensure that we do have those independent and effective processes in place. Commissioner Jenkins' recommendations do also recommend the development of a code of practice in relation to parliamentarians, a code of practice in relation to parliamentary staff and standards of practice in relation to all work occupants within this workplace. These are some of the actions that we're committed to working through with other parties to ensure they're delivered upon in the most effective and successful way possible.