Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP speaks on the 2nd Anniversary of the Set the Standard Reform

7 February 2024 


I would like to thank the chair, Vivienne Thom, and members of the taskforce for the work that we have been undertaking. The annual statement into the progress towards the implementation of Set the standard: report on the independent review into Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces is important, because I think it's too often in this place that we might lose track of that progress. We also need to be reminded of the need and urgency in implementing all of those recommendations of the Set the standard report.

As I said last year in speaking to the annual statement, it's an important milestone and one that we cannot be complacent about. Progress is being made, as others have mentioned, but we are behind in key areas. Of the 28 recommendations, 13 have now been implemented, six have been partially implemented, eight are in progress and one is pending. We need to make greater progress in diversity, equality and inclusion among those elected as parliamentarians and MOP(S) Act employees. Our measurement and public reporting also need further work. Research consistently shows that greater diversity in the workplace means increased productivity, creativity and innovation, alongside enhanced problem-solving skills. We work at the heart of Australian democracy and it's essential that our workforce represents the diverse country we serve as parliamentarians.

Professionalising management practice and professional development for MOP(S) Act employees continues to be implemented, and is welcome. It's essential that those employed under the (MOP)S Act are managed appropriately by MPs, senators and their officers, and have access to proper professional development programs to ensure that they can upskill and develop their craft, whether it be chief of staff, policy advisers, in electorate offices and the many, many others. All of these roles are vital in supporting parliamentarians to do their jobs.

Separately, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission remains a work in progress and will be established this calendar year, I hope, with the goodwill of the taskforce. It's incredibly important because, as has been mentioned, that independent complaints mechanism and the enforcement of consequences really are important steps. The commission will be charged with enforcing the behaviour standards and the codes of conduct that all here have agreed to comply with, and it will complement the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service, which is responsible to support our safe and respectful Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces. I would like to thank the hardworking staff within the PWSS for the work they're doing in assisting (MOP)S Act employees. But I do note they are still quite frequently understaffed; there is a small team to deal with a lot of parliamentarians and a lot of staff, so ensuring there are proper ratios and proper staff capability is an important part of it.

Finally, we can't talk about implementing the Set the standard report and complying with it without noticing and pointing out that fundamental change to make this a more respectful, safe and inclusive work environment requires leadership from the top, from our most visible leaders on both sides and from all of us as members of parliament. It's especially true in how we conduct ourselves as parliamentarians and, in particular, how we conduct ourselves in this place. One of the most visible times for this place is during question time, and I don't think a single member in this place would not be contacted by members of their communities who are quite horrified at the conduct that occurs here. Too often political pointscoring or seeking political advantage takes precedence over respectful conduct. That is important in the context of Set the standard, because our staff and employees take note and take the lead from us—from leaders in this place. If we indicate that aggressive conduct or bullying conduct is acceptable, that is taken to be acceptable by staff and that goes on down the chain. People in positions of power can end up in situations where conduct can be unacceptable.

I often hear from constituents and other Australians who are disappointed and ashamed by some of the conduct of this place. I think if we are going to improve the standard for our staff, it must start with us. A good example, I would say, ironically, is the schedule we have for today: the government has extended the sitting till 10 pm. This is to honour that this is a place of debate, which is a good thing. But be mindful of what this means for staff, who may well have come into this place at six or seven this morning: that's a 15- to 16-hour day if they're staying here till 10 pm. Every decision in terms of the sitting of this place has an impact on staff, so if we're going to talk about setting standards and a more respectful workplace it must be in this way as well.

I commend my fellow members of the parliamentary taskforce. I know we have more work to do, and I thank them. We are behind schedule, but we will get there. I thank the members in this place for staying committed to implementing the recommendations in full.