ACT Minister for Women Yvette Berry has flagged the possibility of reviewing the ACT Code of Conduct in light of allegations of sexual assault and harassment emerging from federal Parliament House.
Speaking about the broader public mood at the moment demanding a culture change within Parliament, and greater respect for women in society, Minister Berry said that although the Code of Conduct was reviewed in the past Legislative Assembly term, it is due for a top up.
A review of the culture within Parliament House is currently being conducted by Sex Discrimination Commissioner for the Australian Human Rights Commission, Kate Jenkins, after former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins alleged she was raped in the Defence Minister’s office in 2019.
Minister Berry said numerous reporting mechanisms and networks for staff have already been put in place within the Assembly so that sexual abuse or assault victims could go through the avenue they trusted most.
“I suspect there will be more work done [locally] given what has come out of the Federal Parliament, but everything is there at the moment,” she said.
“I think there is a high level of knowledge about what is going on and what is available [in the Assembly] in regards to supports.
“There is a pretty good complaints and disputes process … [but] if it is not enough, we will do more.”
ACT Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee agreed that the ACT Parliament does not have the same culture as Parliament House because all members who work in the Assembly live in the local community as opposed to fly-in-fly-out federal staffers.
“[ACT culture] is not the be-all and end-all, but we are invested in this community,” she said. “We live here.
“For people who misbehave or engage in inappropriate conduct, you will probably run into them at the local shops.”
Ms Lee said she will see if there are legislative changes that can be made in the ACT to strengthen the current system, but that a big part of the problem is the need for cultural and attitudinal change in society.
For Minister Berry, a large part of this cultural change has involved listening to and believing victims who came forward with their stories.
“Sexual assaults and domestic and family violence are complicated issues … and you hear any victim say they just want to be believed,” she said.
“[But] that is still the ambulance for the people at the bottom of the cliff – we have to do [something] at the top to stop people falling over.”
Both leaders also agree that a female majority Parliament, which has been the case in the ACT since 2016, helps allay some of the cultural problems their federal counterparts are facing.
“That is what women bring, a diversity of lived experiences that are not experienced by men, and that is what changes the culture,” said Minister Berry.