27 September 2023

Report finds Parliament should lift standards

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The Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) Set the Standard: Report on the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces has found they do not meet acceptable standards.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins said the Report was the result of seven months of engagement with current and former staff and Parliamentarians from across all Parliamentary workplaces.

“Many people, both current and former staff, have had meaningful careers in Parliamentary workplaces, motivated by a genuine commitment to contribute to the nation’s success,” Commissioner Jenkins said.

“However, we found that even those with positive experiences who participated recognised that this workplace does not meet the standards that the nation’s Parliament should meet,” she said.

Commissioner Jenkins said more than half (51 per cent) of all people currently in Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces had experienced at least one incident of bullying, sexual harassment or actual or attempted sexual assault in a Commonwealth workplace — “that is unacceptably high”.

“A lack of clear standards of conduct, limited accountability and power imbalances combine with the high-intensity, high stakes nature of the work, the pursuit of political power and advantage, the frequent blurring of personal and professional life and the intense loyalty to political parties to create specific risk factors unique to this workplace,” she said.

Commissioner Jenkins said Parliamentary workplaces were not one single workplace with a homogenous workplace culture.

“The Parliament, along with 227 electorate offices across the country, contains multiple employment arrangements, working across different offices and Departments, each with their own unique culture,” she said.

“Throughout this Review, we heard that these workplaces are not always safe environments for many people within them.”

The Commissioner said the Report set out five key shifts that should be introduced to ensure safe and respectful work environments: Strengthening institutional and individual leadership; specific strategies, including targets, to increase gender equality, diversity and inclusion; a centralised Office for Staffing and Culture; an Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission to provide safe and supported reporting options; and a proactive focus on safety and wellbeing to mitigate the risk factors for misconduct, including a holistic health and wellbeing service and alcohol policies.

The Commissioner’s 452-page Report can be accessed at this PS News link.

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