Government implements Foster recommendations for parliamentary staff

By Melissa Coade

Friday October 1, 2021

Finance minister Simon Birmingham
Finance minister Simon Birmingham. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Staff who work in commonwealth parliamentary workplaces are now able to access a new independent complaints mechanism.

Finance minister Simon Birmingham announced the workplace mechanism and a new parliamentary workplace support service (PWSS) last week.

He said the PWSS would be supported by trained counsellors and case coordinators 24/7.

Parliamentary service commissioner Peter Woolcott will oversee the service, the senator added, to ensure that the process was handled confidentiality and independently.

“Every single Australian has a right to feel and to be safe in their workplace, and our national Parliament should set an example and reflect best practice in the prevention and handling of bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault,” the finance minister said. 

The new avenues to raise a complaint mean that staff and parliamentarians who are impacted by serious incidents at work, including behaviour that amounts to bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault, have recourse. 

The PWSS will be able to provide immediate advice and ongoing trauma-informed support to complainants, receive reports of serious incidents, and facilitate referrals to the right authorities (such as police or specialised support services).

Through the service, independent experts can also be appointed to conduct reviews into workplace complaints, and make recommendations. 

The measures were introduced in response to priorities for change highlighted by Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet deputy secretary Stephanie Foster who was tasked with reviewing parliamentary workplace processes in response to allegations that a former ministerial staffer was raped by a colleague in Parliament House in 2019.

In July the government confirmed that it would be implementing all 10 recommendations of the Foster Review within six weeks

Senator Birmingham confirmed that the new independent complaints mechanism and PWSS had bi-partisan backing from the government and Labor party, and that a new resolution addressing the measures would be put to both houses of parliament at the next sitting.

“These measures were immediate priorities the Foster Review recommended be implemented ahead of the completion of the Independent Review of Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces being undertaken by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins,” Birmingham said.

“This service is in addition to work already completed to establish an independent, confidential, trauma-informed parliamentary support line as well as the rollout this week of workplace safety and respect training for staff and parliamentarians.”

The new services will only be available to complainants wanting to address incidents that allegedly took place from the start of this parliamentary term. Historical allegations before this time will not be addressed by the PWSS.


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