26 July 2021

New complaints mechanism, cultural training for House staff and Ministers

| Ian Bushnell
Start the conversation

Thousands of people rallied in front of Parliament House on 4 March to support Brittany Higgins. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

An independent complaints mechanism for serious incidents in the Parliamentary workplace will be set up within six weeks and all Ministers and their staff will have to undergo mandatory cultural training.

The Federal Government has agreed to adopt all 10 recommendations of the final report by Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet deputy secretary Stephanie Foster into the processes and procedures relating to serious incidents in the parliamentary workplace.

The review was prompted by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’ allegation that she was raped by a colleague in a Minister’s office.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Parliamentary Service Commissioner would oversee the new complaints mechanism which will apply to incidents from the commencement of the current term of Parliament.

Ms Foster defined serious incidents as including allegations of assault, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and serious and systemic bullying or harassment.

Mr Morrison said the government would work with the Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate and other parliamentary parties to get the independent complaints mechanism up and running.

“Every Australian has a right to feel and to be safe at work,” he said.

Ms Foster recommended that any complaints mechanism include a Serious Incident Team (SIT) comprising highly skilled case officers with a mixture of expertise in trauma-informed support and administrative and employment law.

READ ALSO ‘As strict as possible’: new restrictions in place at Parliament House for spring sitting

This team should refer criminal allegations to police and other matters to an independent reviewer, the Department of Finance or specialised support services.

Earlier this year, the government set up a dedicated 24/7 support line – 1800 274 778 – for staff who have experienced serious incidents in the workplace.

Mr Morrison said the government had already been piloting a face-to-face training program for parliamentarians and their staff, and this would now be rolled out widely from September.

“It will be mandatory for all Coalition Ministers and staff, and it is expected that all other parliamentarians and their staff will undertake this training when it is available to them,” he said.

As recommended, the names of parliamentarians who undertake training will be recorded in a public register.

“Parliamentarians are answerable to their constituents, and therefore the government agrees with Ms Foster’s recommendation that a public register would instil confidence that Parliamentarians were undertaking the necessary actions,” he said.

READ ALSO Public service launches new Academy in training overhaul

The tender has already been released for the training, which will “inform staff what behaviours constitute assault, sexual assault, sexual harassment and serious and systemic bullying and harassment and what does not”.

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.

Last week, the public servants union said the tender for the mainly optional training was a half-hearted response and showed the government did not take the issues in the Parliamentary workplace seriously.

Today, the Community and Public Sector Union said it stood by its response.

Ms Foster also recommended the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS), Parliamentary Security Service (PSS) officers or AFP officers review their procedures and monitor after-hours access to Parliament House.

Mr Morrison said that Ms Foster’s recommendations provided for the implementation of important reforms ahead of the receipt of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ independent review into Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces later this year.

The full report can be downloaded from PMC.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.