11 August 2021

CPSU calls for tougher stand on bullying and sexual harassment at Parliament House

| Ian Bushnell
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Thousands of people rallied in front of Parliament House earlier this year after the Brittany Higgins revelations. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

The union representing workers at Parliament House has called on the Federal Government to establish a behavioural code of conduct for all MPs and Senators, mandatory face-to-face training on sexual harassment and bullying for all parliamentarians and staff, and an enforceable sexual harassment policy for all parliamentary departments.

The Community and Public Sector Union, which last month lambasted the government’s response to the Foster review into serious incidents at Parliament House as half-hearted, has now released its recommendations to the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces being led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.

Both reviews were prompted by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’ allegation that she was raped by a colleague in a Minister’s office at Parliament House.

READ ALSO Man charged over alleged rape at Parliament House

On Friday (6 August), police announced that a man had been charged with sexual assault concerning an incident at Parliament House. He is set to appear before the ACT Magistrates Court on 16 September 2021.

The CPSU said the Morrison Government must immediately and comprehensively act to better prevent and respond to the systemic sexual harassment and assault, bullying, harassment and discrimination that permeate Parliament House.

In its submission to the Jenkins review, it says that a workplace approach reliant on lacklustre policies, training, and complaint handling has failed to prevent sexual harassment and bullying of staff.

“Rather, victim-survivors have borne the burden, coming forward to report, contributing to their ongoing harm,” the submission says.

The CPSU says the focus should be on the employer’s obligations to take proactive and reasonable steps to prevent harm.

It says that education and training on sexual harassment and bullying delivered by experts should be mandatory, regular, and face-to-face for all parliamentarians and staff.

It is calling for the establishment of an independent human resources body with the authority to manage and hold parliamentarians accountable for the implementation of good employment practices.

At present, that is managed by the Department of Finance.

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It wants the recently announced independent complaints mechanism to cover former employees, incidents beyond the current parliament, and other workers in the APH precinct.

There should also be an all-party process for parliamentarians to be sanctioned.

The submission calls for an annual anonymous survey to understand staff experiences and monitor progress on preventing workplace sexual harassment, sex-based harassment and bullying.

The CPSU believes the Independent Inquiry’s recommendations and the effectiveness of measures implemented within two years of the Review being handed down should be audited and the report made public.

A Gender Equality Action Plan and Diversity Equality Action Plan should also be established.

The CPSU says the government should adopt and immediately implement all 55 recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work report.

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CPSU National Secretary Melissa Donnelly said the government must act on the Inquiry recommendations and not sit on them as they did to the Respect at Work report.

“It is time for the government to take seriously the role that parliamentarians play in creating safe or dangerous workplaces, and ensure all steps are taken to educate parliamentarians on their obligations as employers,” she said.

“At the heart of the government response must be victim-centric risk mitigation and an acknowledgement that they must and should do better.”

The Jenkins review is due to be handed down later this year.

The Federal Government agreed to adopt all 10 recommendations of the final report by Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet deputy secretary Stephanie Foster, including a complaints mechanism and training.

Training would be mandatory for parliamentarians and their staff but optional for others.

Staffers will undertake a two-hour face-to-face session using practical scenarios. Chiefs-of-staff will only need to complete a one-hour face-to-face session.

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Shouldn’t the CPSU be calling for a tougher stand at ALL the places of work they represent?

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