On my continuing quest to slay the internalised misogynist that lies within and nurture my late-onset feminism, I downloaded Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins “Set the Standard: Report on the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces.” This is the report we have been waiting for in light of allegations by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins that she was raped by a colleague in her boss’s office at Parliament House.
What struck me first was the length of this report. Most novels I read are less than the 454 pages it took to unravel this despicable situation, and I cannot attest to have read it all. The statistics quoted were so overwhelming they left me with no doubt, no wriggle room to find anything redeemable. I very soon cut straight to the 28 recommendations Kate Jenkins made, vowing to be part of the solution. Below is my summary of those recommendations:
- Fess up and apologise.
- Put someone in charge who is accountable to do what is being recommended…
- … and get someone else to hold them accountable.
- Train the boss people how to conduct themselves respectfully in a workplace and make it
safe for staff to report those that don’t.
- Diversify our parliamentarian representation with more women, First Nations, LBGTQI+ and
- …then make sure they employee staff with the same in mind.
- Keep a public record that you are getting 5 & 6 right.
- Same as 5 & 6, except for departmental staff.
- Make sure workplaces are accessible to those in 5, 6 & 8.
- Every day, remind everyone to not partake in acts of arseholery – which includes the use of
language but please let me have this one indulgence, born of frustration.
- Put together a HR office accountable directly to Parliament…
- …to ensure hiring, induction, performance, and misconduct are dealt with properly.
- Give Parliamentarian staffers an induction, and some professional development training…
- … and do more training to make sure no-one is under any illusion that ‘what goes on tour
stays on tour’ applies to anyone, anywhere.
- Remind boss people that ‘loss of trust or confidence’ is not a catchall for getting rid of staff
who don’t like their behaviour…
- …in fact, you have to run staff dismissal by the new office…
- …and, you should change the Act to make sure you get 15 & 16 right…
- …and while you’re at it, review the entire Act as 1984 was a long time ago.
- Make sure you are all working together on this and come up with a common dashboard with big red lights, so the public knows if anyone is being bullied, sexually harassed, or sexually assaulted.
- Don’t stop there – expand the workplace services to all parliamentary workers.
- Moreover, carve those standards of conduct in stone, within the Act, and make it snappy!
- Have an independent group to decide on sanctions for misconduct and apply them.
- Make sure staffers have the same rights to public disclosure as the pollies.
- Make sure Sex, Age and Disability Discrimination Act’s apply to pollie staffers.
- A bit more detail on getting 2 right, with some further detail on the bleeding obvious but I
can see clarity is needed to ensure no one is left wondering if they should ignore bullying,
sexual harassment, or sexual assault.
- The Department of Parliamentary Services should take the lead on the wellbeing of staff…
- …as The Procedures Committees of both houses should create sitting calendars conducive to the same.
- Stop using parliamentary workplaces as seedy bars.
I feel like much of this is standard HR 101, with some paraphrasing from the annals of ‘How to be a decent human being’. At the very least I cannot believe that Commissioner Jenkins and her team had to be so descriptive to our very own Parliament House. A building I walk around often and feel privileged to be able to do so. A building that upholds pomp and ceremony, with robes and gavels and shouts of ‘order’ following strict protocols with times and bells and official stuff.
In her fantastic Canberra Times article – ‘We have Kate Jenkins‘ instructions. Now we must smash the House and rebuild’ – Jenna Price wrote, “Some of you do it, and others of you condone it, women among you.” If I could also add to that some of you ignore it. So be gone you grubby creatures that ‘do it’ and ‘condone it’ as the full power of the law is set to now descend upon you and protect victims of bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault. As for those who ignored it, I will do some paraphrasing of my own in stating that evil thrives when good people do nothing.
You may have felt afraid in the past to speak out, but thanks to Brittany be afraid no longer and know from this day forward, to ignore it is to condone it. As I stated in the beginning, I do want to be part of the solution, but how? I don’t work in government in fact I don’t work for anyone but myself. I do write and I do vote, however, and to that end I can make my views heard. If you are still here with me reader, join me as I drawn my leg back and prepare to kick ‘em where it hurts – right in the ballot box.