20 September 2022

Proposal to ban booze and late sittings at Parliament House

| Chris Johnson
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Parliament House

Could ending late sessions and banning alcohol at Parliament House improve working conditions? Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Federal Parliament would stop sitting at 6:30 pm and stop serving alcohol under one proposed regime aimed at curtailing intimidation and sexual harassment against junior female staff.

At the very least, alcohol should not be consumed inside ministerial or MPs’ offices, according to the plan.

Reducing federal parliament’s sitting hours and limiting where alcohol can be consumed in the building were two recommendations put to a hearing into parliamentary behaviour.

The Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Standards is sitting in Canberra for two days this week, and on Monday it heard evidence from, among others, gender law expert Rosalind Dixon from the School of Global and Public Law, UNSW.

Professor Dixon told the committee that while alcohol and long working hours could not be blamed for gender-based violence, addressing the issues would make the culture in Parliament House less intimidating for junior staff.

READ ALSO It’s a ‘man’s world’: sexual harassment and bullying rife in toxic House

Professor Dixon suggested parliament should not sit beyond 6:30 pm and that alcohol should either be banned entirely from the building or restricted to areas of responsible service.

“Encouraging people to work business hours rather than extremely long hours, and reducing the consumption of alcohol … builds a more family-friendly culture in Parliament House,” she said.

“If junior staff are entitled to leave the building, it gives them the opportunity to go home and have dinner with their families.”

If they have to work after dinner, the professor said, staff would be in a stronger position to choose to do that work from home instead of returning to Parliament House.

“The core hours of sitting should accommodate those staff,” she said.

Using some law courts that sit between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm as an example, Professor Dixon said no one believes those are the only hours court officers are working, but that they have control over how they work outside of those hours.

But the recommendations are not likely to be adopted anytime soon.

The committee’s deputy chair, Liberal Senator Marise Payne, said it was naive and a “rose-coloured view” to think that even if staff from MPs’ offices left the building during business hours that it would be the end of their association with each other or their bosses for the day.

“I just don’t think that’s practical,” Senator Payne said.

The Senator also said parliamentary work regularly demanded extra long working days.

READ MORE Leaders, Parliament apologise for toxic workplace and commit to change

Professor Dixon suggested too that pairing arrangements for parental leave should be an entitlement rather than something to be bargained for on a case-by-case basis.

The Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Standards has been established to inquire into and report on matters relating to the development of codes of conduct for Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces.

The committee was established as a result of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ independent review into parliamentary behaviour, tabled in November last year.

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thoughtsonthesubject5:30 pm 01 Oct 22

Liberal Senator Marise Payne objected to shortened working hours. Since she did not object to the suggestion that alcohol should be banned from parliament, I hope the ban will be introduced soonest. As also others have said, we do not want drunken politicians take far-reaching decisions about the government of our country.

Good move!

What a commendable proposal. I do not want issues debated by somewhat intoxicated people. Of course, they should halt proceedings at a sensible hour and go home and have a glass of wine with dinner

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