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Thursday, 25 March 2021
Page: 68

Mr ALBANESE ( Grayndler Leader of the Opposition ) ( 16:30 ): We know that concerns have been raised across the parliament. We know that these issues are issues outside the parliament in our entire society. We need to ensure, in terms of this debate, that this workplace is seen as best practice, not as it has been seen in the past couple of weeks.

As set out in the terms of reference:

The aim of the Review is to ensure all Commonwealth Parliamentary workplaces are safe and respectful and that our national Parliament reflects best practice in the prevention and handling of bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

That's why it is vital that as many current and former staff as possible are able to participate.

There have been brave women who have chosen to tell their stories to drive change and I acknowledge that bravery. We have heard though from many staff directly and through their unions, or through voluntary supporters and advocates, that some do not feel safe to come forward unless they have these guarantees of confidentiality and privacy beyond those provided by the ordinary processes of the Human Rights Commission. Concerns have been raised by staff and former staff from all parties that as the Human Rights Commission is subject to the Freedom of Information Act and the Archives Act there is currently, without this legislation, no guarantee that information submitted to the review will remain private. That's why this legislation is so important and that's why I wrote to the Prime Minister last Tuesday. More recently, a bipartisan group of current and former federal parliamentary staff members and their supporters wrote to the Prime Minister and to myself expressing those same concerns. The bill is the product of negotiations across this parliament and it delivers the protection that staff deserve.

Can I say, in terms of outcomes, one of the things I've said publicly, and I say it here as well, is that where there have been issues we have successfully set-up independent organisations, such as IPEA to look at the entitlements for members of parliament and their offices, and that has been a success. We've established the Parliamentary Budget Office to bring integrity to commitments that are given during election campaigns.It seems to me that a model of an independent body, whereby people could safely go and make confidential submissions, a place where complaints could be made and dealt with in a confidential way, at arm's length from the current system—that clearly is compromised, because the MOP(S) Act means that often there are relationships related to the political process between members of parliament, ministers and their staff. That's just a fact. Therefore, I really hope, and I have confidence that in examining these matters Kate Jenkins will come up with proposals that do give more confidence and in future will ensure that people can have somewhere to go that is separate from the sorts of debates that we've had in recent days about, for example, what staff in the Prime Minister's office or other offices, as well as MPs, know.

I do want to pay tribute to our caucus chair, who's here, the member for Newcastle; the shadow minister, the member for Sydney; and others, particularly the women in our caucus, who have shown incredible leadership and have come forward and worked so hard on developing a framework for the Labor Party of an updated code of conduct, a sexual harassment policy, a bullying policy and a complaints process. That was unanimously adopted by the ALP national executive on 26 February. That process also could be looked at in terms of being a model. We'll continue to work on it. You never get these things right.

Essentially a lot of these issues arise from the power imbalance in society related to the fact that patriarchy exists in our society. We want to ensure that there's full equality. At the moment there's not. The party caucus I joined in 1996 was far less reflective of Australian society than the current one is. I look around at the people. Not only is gender important but religious background, ethnicity and First Nations people being represented in far greater numbers are as well.

We strongly support this bill. We'll support the amendment that will be moved. The Jenkins review offers a chance for generational cultural change. Let's not waste it.