8 October 2022

Parliamentary staff employee review quietly published, calls for more transparency and oversight

| Chris Johnson
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Australian Parliament House entrance

The review recommends suggests the employment conditions of parliamentary staff reflect acceptable modern workplace standards. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

MPs would no longer have complete control over the staff working for them and be unable to hire and fire at will if the Federal Government accepts the recommendations from the review into the legislation covering the parliamentary workplace.

A yet-to-be-established Office of Parliamentarian Staffing and Culture would have the power to insist on more transparency and accountability – including the vetting and training of staff – and more human resources help and job security for staff.

The Review of the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 (widely referred to as the MoPs Act) suggests it be reformed and modernised to reflect acceptable workplace standards.

But it does not find that the Act is no longer fit-for-purpose.

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The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet quietly published the long-awaited report Friday afternoon (7 October).

The review was commissioned in February by then prime minister Scott Morrison in response to the Set the Standard report by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, which was an independent review into Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces.

That review was initiated after examples of appalling treatment of parliamentary staff and unacceptable behaviour by some staff and some of their employers.

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Under the Act, as it stands, staff working for MPs and Senators are employed at the complete discretion of the parliamentarians.

“In the main, the review concluded that the framework of the MoP(S) Act was broadly appropriate but required some amendments to modernise it, provide greater clarity, and improve transparency,” the report states.

“The biggest issues and gaps identified relate to human resource capability within offices, the HR advice and support available to parliamentarians and employees, and accountability mechanisms.

“The bulk of these issues identified will need to be first-order priorities for the OPSC once it is established. It will be critical that the OPSC delivers high quality, fair and consistent support to all its clients from its inception, enabling it to win trust and drive cultural reform over the mid to long term.”

The review made 15 recommendations, including that the MoPS Act should provide greater clarity over employment roles and responsibilities by setting out the specific duties of parliamentarians, the OPSC and the Prime Minister; the OPSC should undertake a review of the factors affecting workloads, particularly in electorate offices, including support systems and processes; and parliamentarians should recruit staff against specified position descriptions and undertake an assessment of a candidate’s capacity to successfully perform the prescribed role.

It also recommended that the OPSC develop policies and guidance to support this, including consideration of the use of self-declarations and pre-engagement checks.

All 15 recommendations can be viewed here.

The government is yet to respond to the review and its recommendations.

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