SPEECH - Parliamentary Standards

  • Speech

Federation Chamber
Parliamentary Standards

As the chair of the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Standards, I am beyond delighted to speak to the Prime Minister's motion that this House endorse the committee's draft behaviour standards and codes for parliamentarians, for parliamentarian staff and for Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces. Yesterday marked one year since the parliament acknowledged the Set the standard report by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. The revelations of sexual harassment, bullying and sexual assault that have been made clear through almost 1,800 submissions to the report were shocking. The Australian people rightly called for change, and the government has been working across the parliament to implement the Commissioner's 28 recommendations and to deliver a safer and more respectful parliamentary workplace.

The parliament has already established the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service to provide trauma informed and confidential support across the parliament. We've changed the standing orders to make sitting days more family friendly and provided new training programs for parliamentarians and staff to build greater awareness and understanding of inclusion, diversity and respect. And we've released the MOP(S) Act review and agreed in principle to all 15 of its recommendations.

One of Jenkins's central recommendations was to introduce codes of conduct for parliamentarians, for parliamentarian staff and for all Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces. These codes were developed by the multiparty Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Standards which I chaired.

I want to take a moment to thank all of the members of that committee for their diligence, for their consultation, for their hard work and, it must be said, at the end their determination to get this done. I'm honoured to be joined in the chamber by one of those committee members, the member for Lalor. I also want to acknowledge the member for Bean and the member for Calwell who helped enormously in the committee process. The member for North Sydney and the member for Forrest were our House members on the select committee, and I was joined by the very able deputy chair, Senator the Hon. Marise Payne in the other place, along with Senator Claire Chandler, Senator Mehreen Faruqi and Senator Deb O'Neill.

There was a big body of work for the committee to do, and it was unusual for a parliamentary committee to be asked to draft and develop some codes of conduct. I pay tribute, as I said, to all those committee members. I'm proud that the committee was able to deliver a report to the House and the other place that was unanimous in our resolve. There was no dissenting report; there were no additional comments. It was a tough process reaching consensus, but that is what is required, and, indeed, I would argue it's what is expected of us by the majority of Australian citizens. This is testament to the collaborative work of the committee members.

I also want to take a moment to thank everybody who made submissions, who spoke at the hearings, who undertook the survey and who participated in confidential roundtable discussions. The committee was determined to ensure that we had multiple ways in which we would be able to engage with staff, with public servants, with politicians, with members of the press gallery—there are so many different people who work and engage in Commonwealth workplaces across the country.

The codes of conduct that we've landed on and recommended to the House and the Senate really set out some very clear guidelines as to how we must behave towards each other, with a focus on respectful behaviour, encouraging diverse perspectives and recognising the power and influence that we all have and ensuring that that is not abused. They also set out some clear expectations of upholding laws that support safe and respectful workplaces. We have a body of laws in Australia, including on matters regarding bullying, harassment and sexual harassment or assault and discrimination in any form. We have existing laws, and these behaviour standards remind us that this behaviour will not be tolerated, condoned or ignored.

The committee also put forward recommendations that guidance material and training accompany these new codes. We know how important that is because the parliament is seeking not just to set guidelines about how we should behave respectfully towards each other but also to drive a much longer-term project around cultural change. That is the hardest work of all. Honestly, as challenging as it was to draft codes of conduct, that is the easy part. We've got a big job to do on education and the guidance materials that need to follow so that people understand very clearly what is being asked of us are. But the really big change is cultural change, and that's where we'll deliver really long-term and meaningful change in not just this place but all of our workplaces that are recognised as Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces across Australia.

I can't tell you how many times witnesses said these codes of conduct would not be worth the paper they were written on if there weren't also a strong enforcement regime to accompany them. The motion before the House flags the need for that. We are being asked to endorse a set of codes now, pending the formation of what will be an independent body. The Sex Discrimination Commissioner called it an Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission and our committee is very happy with that title, but that will be a matter for the parliament. It will be that commission that will need to determine how guidance is given on the codes, what the compliance mechanisms will look like and how breaches will be dealt with.

For those people who are interested and are wondering what that might look like, some very clear guidance was provided by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner in her report. Our committee was satisfied that there should be a suite of options available and that they should be far-ranging and commensurate with the level of seriousness of a breach.

There might be an element of nervousness about this because the Australian parliament has, to date, failed on each and every occasion it has attempted to introduce codes of conduct. My plea to this parliament is to look at the international experience. Please read the report. Look at those draft codes of conduct.

In our report we have also recommended a review, which is right and proper. This is a new process for the Australian parliament and we want to make sure we are setting best practice. The one good thing about being one of the last countries in the Commonwealth to achieve this is that we get to learn some lessons, so I would recommend people take the time to look carefully at these codes.

As I said, for too long this parliament has sought to address this issue. It is almost a half-century since we first debated the need for codes of conduct in this parliament. We squibbed on it in 1975 and again in 1993, 2008, 2011 and 2012. Let's not allow the 47th parliament to join that list of failures. Let's not allow it. We owe it to the Australian people. We owe it to everyone who shared their stories of pain and trauma. And we owe it to ourselves and the future generations of people that will serve and work in this place and in all the Commonwealth workplaces across the nation. I commend this motion to the House.

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