Zali Steggall commends Parliamentary Standards Report and welcomes code of conduct

23 March 2023

I rise to speak on this important work. I commend the report and the work of the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Standards. I'd like to thank, in particular, the secretariat and the members of the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Standards, and my independent colleague Kylie Tink, the member for North Sydney, who has been working on it. This is really important. For context: the Set the standard review done by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins shocked the nation. I think it's fair to say it shocked most of us in here—I hope—but it also shocked the nation in terms of the wide scale and the level of discrimination, abuse, disrespect, harassment and even allegations of assault and sexual assault in the parliamentary workplace. I think it was a pretty low bar for the Commonwealth workplace.

Now the endeavour is to make sure that that can never be the case again and that we set much better standards, as Commissioner Jenkins aptly named her report. This place is setting the laws and the rules for the rest of the country that so many other workplaces must comply with. This place should be the gold standard that other workplaces aspire to. What was made so clear in that report is that it's very far from that. This place has a long way to go. I think parliamentarians need to take this on board and take responsibility for the workplace that we are creating and a part of. We need to set a standard of behaviour that can be the gold standard around the country.

One of the recommendations of the Set the standard report by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner was the development of a code of conduct for parliamentarians. The committee that issued this report was formed to develop that code of conduct and the standards for parliamentarians. Since coming into this place in 2019 I have been advocating for a code of conduct. I must say, it was one of the things I was most shocked about in coming into this place, coming from the bar, where of course there is a code of conduct and there is practice. One of the main exams you pass to become a barrister is around ethics. So it was quite surprising to know that there is no code of conduct in this place. I think it's pretty much the only workplace remaining without such a standard.

I welcome the motion for the establishment of a code of conduct for parliamentarians today. It's important progress and something I very strongly support. It is an important benchmark we can all measure ourselves to and hold ourselves to. I greatly appreciate the work of all involved in bringing it to this point. Kate Jenkins, as Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner, welcomed the development of the codes. When they were endorsed by the parliament, she said:

This is an historic moment. Federal Parliament has never had codes of conduct. They are an important tool to help ensure parliament is a safe, respectful workplace.

Let's talk about the recommendations. I was pleased to see the commitment of all parties to the implementation of the behaviour standards for Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces and the behaviour code for parliamentarians. That was recommendation 2. I look forward to the creation of the independent parliamentary standards commission, as recommended in both this report and the Set the Standard report, to support the full implementation of the codes. That is recommendation five.

I also welcome the adoption of the interim codes of conduct until that body is established. That is recommendation 3. I trust that upon the creation of the standards commission we will seek to implement all recommendations, in particular six and seven, to establish a clear understanding of the roles of parliamentarians with respect to the codes and impose sanctions for not complying. Unfortunately, we know that there needs to be deterrence and so for codes of conduct to really bite there needs to be consequences for when they are ignored. So I support the establishment of a body to oversee and conduct reviews into the implantation and enforcement of the standards, as per recommendation 10.

It's important that protections against vexatious claims, frivolous and unreasonable complaints under the codes are also protected against and policies are established to inform people of these policies, as per recommendation 14. I also strongly support recommendation 16, which recommends a proactive approach to training and education when implementing the codes. It is really important that not only staff but parliamentarians be aware and properly understand the expectations that arise from the code.

Recommendation 9 of the report—key to the success of the transformation of this place—is that staff are aware of the changes that are being made and are involved in the process of driving change. The staff consultative group is an important element. As a member of the Parliamentary Leadership Taskforce, I am pleased with the progress towards the establishment of a staff consultative group. It will assist in the amplification of the message, it will drive increased participation in decision-making and it will increase buy-in to the solutions developed. I do say to staff across this place and in everyone's electoral offices that it is important to engage with this process. Unless we get their feedback, unless we hear from you the solutions can't be developed and put in place. It is really important that staff have buy-in, that they feel empowered, that they feel heard, so that they can speak up when the circumstances and situations require it.

Much of the responsibility for the implementation of this report and its recommendations has been given to the Parliamentary Leadership Taskforce, which I'm on, and we're certainly dedicated to see that happen. I welcome the appointment of Dr Vivienne Thom as the new chair of the taskforce and I look forward to working with her throughout this term. I thank her and the secretariat for their hard work.

One element that we are currently engaging with is working towards the establishment of an alcohol policy to address the issues that consumption creates for behaviour in this place, and I really hope to see that implemented very shortly. I think it will be a step forward to ensuring that the parliamentary and the Commonwealth workplace is a respectful workplace.