Public servants and Parliament House staff have signed an open letter urging the Morrison government to increase their workplace safety and install a sufficient complaints process, following multiple sexual assault allegations and increasing calls for the government to act.
The public servants’ demands have come amid growing speculation that Attorney-General Christian Porter and Defence minister Linda Reynolds will lose their portfolios as a result of the scandals, including allegations that Porter sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl in 1988, and that a former ministerial staffer was allegedly raped in Reynolds’ office in 2019.
Both ministers are currently on medical leave, but are expected to return soon.
Government employees on Wednesday met with Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil and Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Melissa Donnelly. In an open letter, union members said the “revelations of widespread gendered violence of the last month have been deeply disturbing and have impacted many of our colleagues”.
Parliament House staff and employees from a number of Australian Public Service agencies have made five key demands for the government to make changes in the workplace, including:
- An independent and confidential complaints process, which is victim-centric, that staff can have confidence in, and that ensures there are consequences for poor behaviour;
- A safe workplace that guarantees public servants and other workers’ workplace health and safety rights, that includes mandatory training for parliamentarians and staff, safe reporting mechanisms, and data reporting to workplace health and safety committees or equivalent;
- Provisions to mitigate gendered violence and sexual harassment agreed to in the MOPS Enterprise Agreement currently under negotiation, and in the current workplace health and safety policies for the Department of House of Representatives, Department of the Senate, Department of Parliamentary Services, Department of Finance and Parliamentary Budget Office and other APS agencies, until they can be inserted into relevant industrial agreements;
- Appropriate, specialised, and ongoing support services for all workers in Parliamentary workplaces;
- The immediate implementation of the 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work report.
In a press conference on Tuesday Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the culture at Parliament House needed to be fixed, following reports that male coalition employees had recorded themselves performing sex acts inside the building, including on the desk of a female MP.
Morrison later apologised for revealing details of a false harassment claim at a media organisation during the press conference.
Donnelly said it was time for the Morrison government to stop talking and start acting.
“The work our members do is incredibly important for our democracy, but their workplaces have significant power imbalances, which can allow bullying, sexual harassment, and sexual assault to fester and go unpunished. This must change,” she said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Respect and safety at work are non-negotiable. Our members across all departments that work in parliament have had enough, and they are demanding action for a safe workplace. Much has been written about their experience, but these are their demands.”
On Wednesday reports that Porter would lose his position when he returns to work next week began emerging, after Morrison was asked about the matter during Question Time.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese had asked the PM whether Porter would return from leave as a part-time minister, or whether he was “preparing to drop him altogether”.
“I am considering that advice with my department secretary, in terms of the application against the ministerial guidelines,” Morrison replied.
“And when I have concluded that assessment, I’ll make a determination and I’ll make an announcement at that time.”
It has also been speculated that Reynolds will be moved due to her handling of her former staffer Brittany Higgins’ allegations that she was raped in Parliament House in 2019.
Reynolds was recently forced to “unreservedly apologise” to Higgins after it was revealed she had called her ex employee a “lying cow” on the day Higgins’ story broke.