How safe of a workplace is Parliament?

Almost a year ago, the Broderick report was handed down in NSW Parliament. How much has changed since then? 

Today in Parliament, Abigail gave an adjournment speech about fighting for a safe Parliamentary workplace.

Abigail said:

Two weeks ago Federal politics was again dominated by allegations of sexual assault and harassment within Parliament. Some 18 months after the Jenkins report and its recommendations were handed down and more than a year after a new Federal Labor Government was elected, promising to create a safer parliamentary culture, we were all reminded of just how little has actually changed to keep people safe within Parliament's walls. The media response was, on the whole, sadly predictable, with unwarranted and often racist criticisms directed at Independent Senator Lidia Thorpe, and much of the broader commentary lacking any understanding of the bigger issues at stake.

Those of us who work in parliamentary settings across our country are well aware of why we are unlikely to see a safe workplace anytime soon. The behaviour of those elected to serve in our parliaments, no matter how it would be viewed in any other workplace in Australia, will never result in those people facing real consequences. Having been elected, they cannot be removed. As chief political correspondent atThe Saturday Paper Karen Middleton noted, there is nothing that requires someone accused of bad behaviour in Parliament to quit their role. If they are part of a political party, they might be expelled from that party, but they can sit on the crossbench and remain a member of Parliament. There are a very limited set of circumstances that can result in a member of Parliament losing their position.

In New South Wales we are no strangers to the consternation caused by a member being accused of crimes but not being required to step down, let alone the risk to safety felt by staff across the precinct who are the subject of hate speech by some of our MPs. That is the nub of the problem. As an MP, an MP staffer or any other worker or participant in the political precinct, there is very little people can do about the offensive behaviour of an MP that would result in any real change or rectification of harm. It is not surprising that people in this place who are faced with the kind of behaviour from an MP that would simply not be acceptable in any other workplace simply do not feel empowered to address that behaviour through parliamentary processes. A person can literally abuse someone else on Twitter or threaten them in the Chamber, and the next day expect to walk down the same halls as them without consequence. The following parts of Senator Thorpe's speech on 15 June are particularly poignant and relatable:

As all women that have walked the corridors of this building know, it is not a safe place. You are often alone in long corridors with no windows and in stairwells hidden from view. Where there are no cameras.

The people in this parliamentary precinct have a wide and diverse experience in interacting with others in this place. People's daily workday will differ depending on whether they are employed by an MP and which party, if any, that MP is a member of, or whether they are employed by a Minister or by the Department of Parliamentary Services. It will differ depending on their gender, if they are a First Nations person, if they are LGBQTIA+, if they are a person with disability, or if they work in the parliamentary precinct or in an electoral office. That is why it was so vital to create a safer workplace and that the Parliamentary Advisory Group comprising representatives of all parts of our parliamentary workplace was established. That is why the Broderick report was at pains to point out the importance of wide and deep consultation in order to address the complicated issues faced by people in our workplace. The Broderick report made a number of recommendations, including that the Parliamentary Advisory Group should:

… continue to provide leadership and oversight of the cultural change work to create safe and inclusive work environments and eliminate harmful behaviours.

It is coming up to a year since the Broderick report was handed down and over three months since Labor won government in New South Wales, and we are yet to see any real implementation of the Broderick recommendations. Notably, we have not seen any attempt to re-establish the Parliamentary Advisory Group or to seek its advice. The previous Coalition Government failed to coordinate a response to the Broderick report that was in any way proportionate to the urgency and importance of that task, and there was a period in which the new Presiding Officers and leaders of the new Government found their feet in the new Parliament. But the continued lack of action on the Broderick report is now very concerning, not least of all because if the Labor Government has been working behind the scenes on this then it has failed to consult with the diverse range of people across our parliament, in contradiction to the Broderick recommendations. We cannot sit around waiting for another story to hit the headlines, where another person has been failed by this Parliament. We must do better. We must now take urgent action to ensure a safe parliamentary workplace.

 

Read the full Hansard transcript here.

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