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Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins launches Set the Standard

Discrimination Sex Discrimination

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has today launched Set the Standard, the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Report on the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces.

Set The Standard is the result of seven months of deep engagement with current and former staff and parliamentarians from across all parliamentary workplaces. With more than 1700 individual contributions via interviews, submissions, and survey responses, this report represents a comprehensive understanding of the culture within Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces.

Commissioner Jenkins said: “Many people, both current and former staff, have had meaningful careers in parliamentary workplaces, motivated by a genuine commitment to contribute to the nation’s success.

“However, we found that even those with positive experiences participated in Review in recognition that this workplace does not meet the standards that the nation’s Parliament should meet.

“Over half (51%) of all people currently in Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces (CPWs) have experienced at least one incident of bullying, sexual harassment or actual or attempted sexual assault in a CPW. That is unacceptably high.

“A lack of clear standards of conduct, limited accountability and power imbalances, combine with the high-intensity, high stakes nature of the work, the pursuit of political power and advantage, the frequent blurring of personal and professional life and the intense loyalty to political parties to create specific risk factors unique to this workplace.”

Parliamentary workplaces are not one single workplace with a homogenous workplace culture. The Parliament, along with 227 electorate offices across the country contains multiple employment arrangements, working across different offices and departments, each with their own unique culture.

“Throughout this Review, we heard that these workplaces are not always safe environments for many people within them,” Commissioner Jenkins said.

“We found current systems and reward structures encourage, tolerate and enable misconduct and processes that are not equipped to prevent or address the consequences of that behaviour.”

In March this year, the Commission was asked to undertake the Review of Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces by the Federal Government, with the support of the Opposition and crossbench.

The aim of the Review was to build an understanding of the workplace culture, experiences and expectations of a safe and respectful work environment, and barriers to reporting bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault experienced at work within Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces.

The report makes 28 recommendations that are designed to support all parts of the parliament to perform at their best and bring these workplaces into line with the standards expected of all Australian workplaces.

“In designing the recommendations, we have balanced the need for clear standards, and an independent complaints body to enforce those standards, with the need to establish professional systems and processes to support people and bring this workplace into line with other Australian workplaces,” Commissioner Jenkins said.

The report sets out five key shifts required to ensure safe and respectful work environments in Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces in the areas of:

1. Leadership: Strengthening institutional and individual leadership to ensure a safe and respectful work environment, including a joint Statement of Acknowledgement that owns and accepts the problem and demonstrates a commitment to action and shared accountability.

2. Diversity, equality and inclusion: Specific strategies, including targets, to increase gender equality, diversity and inclusion amongst parliamentarians and their staff, and regular measurement and public reporting to monitor progress.

3. Systems to support performance: Establishing a centralised Office for Staffing and Culture to support parliamentarians and their staff that has the authority to set and enforce standardised HR policies and processes.

4. Standards, reporting and accountability: Establishing an Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission to provide safe and supported reporting options and oversee and enforce Codes of Conduct to hold people to account for misconduct through sanctions.

5. Safety and wellbeing: A proactive focus on safety and wellbeing to mitigate the risk factors for misconduct, including a holistic health and wellbeing service and alcohol policies, with a view to restricting access in line with harm minimisation and safety.

“There is a stark contrast between the complexity and gravity of the work being done in parliamentary offices and the lack of sophisticated workplace structures and practices to support this work,” Commissioner Jenkins said.

“That can and should change.”

Set the Standard is available to read in full at https://humanrights.gov.au/set-standard-2021