The Sydney Morning Herald
“And you said it would never happen!” This was the text I received following the announcement that the Australian Human Rights Commission would conduct an independent review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces.
The author of the text had previously told me there was a clear need for an independent cultural review of the Australian Parliament.
I agreed but wasn’t confident there was the appetite for independent scrutiny of Australia’s most high-profile workplace. I’m glad I was wrong.
When we opened for submissions and interviews in May, I will admit that I was nervous about what sort of response we would receive. I know from my work in Defence, police, sport and universities that it is difficult for people to share their stories of bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault. It is especially difficult when they fear that their job may be at risk or there may be other repercussions. The inherently political nature of parliamentary workplaces provides its own disincentives.
I needn’t have worried; we have seen demand for interviews only continue to grow. Perhaps the courage of others coming forward with their experiences over the course of this year has inspired and empowered people to share their own. But I think the main reason is people recognise that this review is a once-in-a generation opportunity for change.
On Monday we release our progress update, which will be the only information we release before our final report. My team has already spoken with more than 220 people and received more than 120 written submissions. The people who have shared their experience say they have felt valued, respected and, most importantly, heard. It has been a privilege to hear their experiences. Their courage is inspiring.
Only a couple of weeks remain of our consultation period. We hope to hear from as many people, who have worked in these workplaces in any capacity, as possible, before we deliver our final report in November.
We have been told time and again that people haven’t known whether their contribution would be valuable. Let me tell you: they have been and are. While our focus is on misconduct, what factors give rise to it, and how to change them, ours is a broad cultural review. All observations and insights are valuable.
The most important step leaders in these workplaces can take now is to not to stand in the way of those who wish to participate, and indeed to actively encourage them.
Unlike 12 months ago, I am now very confident there is an appetite for independent, expert and evidence-based scrutiny of Australia’s Parliament and, more importantly, a strong commitment for positive change. I have learned that most important of lessons: never say never.
The progress update on the independent review into the Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces, and details about how to contribute, can be found at https://humanrights.gov.au/CPWReview.