SPEECH - Parliamentary Workplace Reform (Set the Standard Measures No.1) Bill 2022

15 February 2022

The Parliamentary Workplace Reform (Set the Standard Measures No. 1) Bill 2022 is an important turning point for this parliament. I begin this speech by acknowledging the work of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins—the seven months of very deep engagement with all of us in this House and indeed, many hundreds of former employees of the House. More than 1,700 individuals made contributions to this review, the second Jenkins review. Some 33 organisations made contributions. There were 935 survey responses, 490 interviews conducted and 320 written submissions, with an additional 11 focus groups.

It was a very busy seven months for the Sex Discrimination Commissioner. I want to honour her work but pay tribute also to each and every one of those 1,723 people who contributed to this review in some way, shape or form. My message to you is that I will work every day in this parliament, as I know my Labor colleagues will, to ensure that the pain and trauma you experienced, which was expressed in this report, will never be in vain. There will be a very firm commitment to make the Australian parliament a place we are all proud to work in and a model employer for the nation.

As the member for Perth rightly pointed out, we're not just talking about the almost 5,000 people who work on a sitting day in this building; we're also talking about the 151 electorate offices that are scattered around Australia, each employing staff, and the senators' offices throughout the states and territories. There are a lot of people that work here or come into contact with the parliament—through lobbying efforts, media people working in the building, the cleaners. Everybody should be able to come to this place and expect they'll be treated in a respectful manner and that, if there are issues, clear processes and remedies are in place for people to seek redress. This is 2022. Probably the most astonishing thing about this report is that it's taken this long to get here.

My Labor colleagues were very keen to be involved in the lead-up to this report—talking to our staff and encouraging people to make contributions. I thank the Labor caucus for the strong support gained in this process. Last Tuesday—or was it on Wednesday—we had the implementation of the very first recommendation, the statement of acknowledgment, in this House. Whilst I am delighted that that happened sooner rather than later, I want to put on record just how disappointed I was that there wasn't care taken to ensure that that statement of acknowledgment was the best it could be. I'm not suggesting that the words were insufficient in any way, but the fact is that more than 1,700 people contributed to this review, bearing their lived experience to this parliament, and they were not advised, let alone invited, to attend the statement of acknowledgment. My staff, like all of our staff, probably found out after the fact, unless we as members were ringing them up beforehand, as I did, to say, 'You should watch this; I'd be interested to know how you respond.' That was a missed opportunity for this parliament, and we really have to start doing things better.

I am delighted that the task force has finally met. This report came down in November. The task force met on 7 February, I think, or it might have been 2 February. There was some delay in doing so, but the task force is now in place. I acknowledge some of the discussion in this chamber last week when the member for Warringah, followed by the member for Chifley, raised questions asking the Speaker to examine—given the commitment we had just made to ensuring that this place would be a safe, respectful workplace—the impact of extremely long sittings on staff and other people who work in this House. I note that the chair has reflected again on his answer, and I am very pleased to hear that, because the role of the Presiding Officer is absolutely critical to the implementation of all the recommendations in this report. There are a number of recommendations. I'm thinking in particular of recommendations 2, 9, 10 and 16, which are not the subject of the bill before us but absolutely demonstrate the critical role not just of each and every one of us in this parliament but of the Presiding Officers in ensuring that we live up to setting the standard in this place.

I am very pleased that we have before us a bill that will seek to implement recommendations 17 and 24 of this review, and I know that my colleague the member for Watson outlined those commitments. They're important changes to clarify that the Fair Work Act does in fact apply to our staff, as do the Age Discrimination Act and the Disability Discrimination Act as well. They're important pieces of legislation.

But I tell you what: this nation is watching us for what we do. The time for words has long passed. There is a whole generation of Australian women now refusing to remain silent, sit back and just listen to our speeches. They have told us loud and clear—the thousands who marched on the front lawns of this Parliament House and each and every brave woman who has stood to recount her experiences of sexual harassment, assault, abuse and bullying—that words alone will change nothing. If you did not get that message from the National Press Club last week, you are deaf. It is abundantly clear that words will not ensure that women and children are safe from violence and abuse. Words will not improve access to justice. They won't ensure that our workplaces, homes and public places are safe. Words won't deliver a better future—not even better words. The only way we get to secure a better future is through action.

As I said, the time for talking is well and truly done. We need our leaders to be bold, brave, and determined to embrace decisive action. For all of us as individuals, employees, leaders, parents and citizens in this place, the moment to be bold and determined and to demand reform is right now. We cannot lose this moment in our history. It is incumbent on each of us, and I know that everyone in Australia is watching this parliament very closely right now. I will be standing here, holding this government to account every waking moment of my days in this parliament. You don't get to walk away like you did with the Respect@Work report, and dud us and only implement half the recommendations. We on this side of the House are absolutely committed to working for the implementation of each and every one of these regulations.