Federal parliamentarian staffers will undergo safe and respectful workplace training following a parliamentary workplace review, according to a new tender.
Initially, the program to “inform staff what behaviours constitute assault, sexual assault, sexual harassment and serious and systemic bullying and harassment and what does not” will not be mandatory.
Staffers will undertake a two-hour face-to-face session using practical scenarios while chief of staffs will only need to complete a one-hour face-to-face session in which MPs are given the “option to attend”.
The program is due to start in September 2021 and it is “highly desirable” that it be completed by the end of the year, the tender says.
The training comes after a review into how serious incidents are dealt with inside Parliament House recommended a trauma-informed support system, an independent complaints mechanism, and a face-to-face tailored workplace education program.
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The review was sparked by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins alleging she was raped in 2019 in the then-Minister for Defence’s office by another Liberal staff member.
The allegations sparked a reckoning as hundreds of thousands of Australians participated in the March4Justice rallies a month later, in March 2021, calling for an end to gendered violence and action on the toxic workplace culture within Parliament House.
The Federal Government then came under fire for how it handled a series of events involving allegations of rape and misconduct.
Just weeks later, on 2 March, 2021, then-Attorney-General Christian Porter outed himself as the Cabinet Minister at the centre of historical rape allegations, which he denies.
Mr Porter was accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in 1988 when he was 17. The allegations were detailed in a dossier written by a woman who has since died.
The accusations led to calls for an independent inquiry into the allegations, similar to the one conducted by the High Court of Australia into former judge Dyson Heydon, as it is unlikely it would be taken to court without the victim.
No inquiry was established.
Allegations of bullying, stalking and harassment levelled at Liberal MP Andrew Lamming also reignited debate about empathy training for parliamentarians.
Calls for cultural changed then grew louder after Mr Lamming apologised in Parliament after allegations he harassed two women online, before admitting he did not know what he was apologising for.
Mr Lamming was directed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to undertake empathy training, which is not mandatory for MPs, while then-Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Michael McCormack said his party would take the training as well.
Mr Lamming was not stood down. He instead announced he would not contest the next election.
Mr Morrison tasked the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Deputy Secretary Stephanie Foster to conduct a review into how incidents were handled a day after the allegations were made public in mid-February 2021.
Ms Foster handed down her report in early June.