Low politician participation revealed in interim report for review of workplace culture in parliament

By Melissa Coade

Tuesday July 20, 2021

This crisis hasn’t come out of nowhere. (Adobe/daqroad)

An update on the progress of the inquiry into how MOP(S) Act employees, parliamentarians, and any other person contracted to work inside parliament house are treated has shown that only 16 current or former politicians have participated in the exercise. 

With just over one week remaining for Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins to accept written submissions (by 31 July) to a landmark review on parliamentary workplace culture, the publication of an interim report shows 16 politicians, some of whom are not currently serving members of parliament, have participated. 

Jenkins told the ABC’s AM radio program that she was scheduled to speak with another 12 former or current parliamentarians.

There are over 220 currently serving parliamentarians who could have stepped forward to participate.

The news follows a recent announcement that sexual harassment training, one hour in duration, would be made available to federal MPs as an option.

While politicians may not be rushing to make a submission to the independent inquiry, 256 employees have come forward to participate. Over 345 people in total have participated in the review as at 14 July, including eight volunteers, interns or students.

Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces • Progress update

Women make up 72% of the respondent group so far and the commission is accommodating more opportunities to hear evidence from people based in Canberra.

“Due to demand, the review has opened up additional opportunities for in-person interviews in Canberra, including in the first parliamentary sitting week in August,” the interim report reads.

Participant feedback about the review has also shown that employees feel safe in sharing their experiences with the commission, with staff reporting they felt supported, assured and protected.

“Although it was deeply distressing reliving my [experience] I felt that I was listened to in a fair, supportive and respectful way. With the assurances that my evidence is protected I was able to be frank without the fear of repercussions,” one respondent wrote.

“If you are thinking about participating in the review, you should, this is your chance to influence this workplace and make it a better place for all … [I]t was a confidential discussion and we talked about what works well here and what could be improved. I found it to be an easy conversation and feel that my contribution was valued,” another respondent said, urging others to think about sharing their experiences with the commission also. 

Interviews and focus groups conducted for the review will be finalised in a few weeks’ time in August.

The commission will also be launching an online survey this month, which will stay open for three weeks, to investigate the current prevalence and nature of bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault in workplace of the Australian parliament. More than 3,700 people who fall within the review’s definition of someone who has worked at parliament house will be invited to participate.

According to the interim report, the survey will be online with invited respondents accessing the questionnaire using a unique login. Participation in the survey is voluntary, no individual will be identified or identifiable, and all responses will be confidential.

Improving workplace safety and respect standards at parliament house (and electorate offices) is the cornerstone of the review, which was spurred by alarming allegations that a young female staffer had been raped by another ministerial staffer in the office of the defence minister in 2019. The inquiry received bi-partisan support when it was announced by finance minister Simon Birmingham earlier this year in March. 

Birmingham issued a statement on Monday, thanking Jenkins for releasing her interim report on schedule. He said the findings of the report would help inform changes to the culture and process of the Australian parliament to set a positive example of what a safe workplace looked like to the nation. 

“I continue to encourage all those who choose to do so, to share their experiences, as this will be vital to informing the review and helping to ensure a safe and respectful workplace,” the Senator said. 

The government has also been clear about our expectations that staff are given support and time to fully participate.”

The commissioner’s final report will be presented in November.

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