25 March, 2021
I move the amendment circulated in my name:
(1) Schedule 1, item 7, page 4 (after line 29), after subsection 7(2DA), insert:
(2DB) A Minister and an agency other than the Australian Human Rights Commission are not exempt under subsection (2DA)(a) from the operation of this Act in relation to documents created for purposes other than the Independent Review to which a right of access otherwise exists or existed under the Act.
The review is a very, very important step to build an understanding of the culture of the parliamentary workplaces, with the aim of building a safe and respectful workplace in which all staff have access to clear and effective mechanisms to prevent and address bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault. The review will consider recommendations to ensure that the people who work in parliamentary workplaces are treated with dignity and respect and have access to clear and effective mechanisms to prevent and address bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault. It is so important to give assurance of confidentiality of information given to the independent review into the workplaces of parliamentarians and their staff conducted by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner by making amendments to the Freedom of Information Act and the Archives Act, which this bill does.
It's an incredibly significant inquiry, and it is vital that we get these protections right in order to ensure the confidence of witnesses. That is why this amendment is proposed now. Many potential witnesses in the inquiry have contacted me personally highlighting their concerns. They've also been contacting other women on the crossbench, and I thank those women for their courage and determination to be heard. I thank my colleagues for their engagement with these women and their cooperation.
The amendment moved is to reflect the concerns identified in relation to the bill as it passed the other place. The women who contacted me are from a range of backgrounds, but all ultimately are aware of the culture of this place. They are acutely politically aware and highly sensitive to the potential for deceit as a result of past experience. These women were concerned that, unamended, the bill had a potential overreach and would prevent them from accessing historical documents that they would otherwise be entitled to under existing freedom-of-information legislation. The amendment that I have moved today clarifies that the exemption from freedom-of-information requests extends only to documents for the purpose of independent review. The original documents contained within the departments and ministerial offices are not exempt from freedom of information. Whilst this amendment means that this bill will be passed when it returns to the Senate in May, I welcome the reassurance from Kate Jenkins, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, and her confirmation that this will not delay or impact the progress of the independent review. This is very important in order for all potential participants to have confidence and to be reassured.
Thank you to all my crossbench colleagues and the opposition for coming together to support this bill and this important amendment. Thank you to the government for listening to the concerns raised, especially to Minister Birmingham, and for our discussions and collaborative approach to this amendment. Finally, thank you to the many individuals who have raised this issue and who have contacted me directly to highlight their concerns and the importance of getting this right. We must have a situation of an inquiry where all submissions will be held in the utmost confidence, where individuals can share their often very painful stories and experiences but do not see an erosion of their existing rights when it comes to any other remedies or actions they may wish to take. I sincerely hope that many people will participate in the independent review to ensure that we have a thorough and meaningful review and that meaningful change can occur from this.