Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall speaks on the Acknowledgement and Apology to Parliamentary Staff

8 February 2022

Ms STEGGALL (Warringah) (12:31): Mr Speaker, I rise on behalf of the crossbench members to speak in support of the statement of acknowledgement you provided to this House today, a statement initiated by the Jenkins Report Leadership Taskforce, of which I am a member. Importantly, it's a bipartisan task force, to ensure that we all engage and ensure a better and safer workplace going forward. Thank you to Kerri Hartland, who is chairing the task force. She is here today.

Mr Speaker, the statement you made for the House seeks to acknowledge the harm caused by bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault in Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces and articulates a commitment to action and shared responsibility. As has been noted, issuing this statement is the first recommendation of the Jenkins review, Set the standard, an inquiry established just under a year ago, on 5 March 2021. Its report was presented to the parliament just nine months later, on 30 November. I am pleased that today, the first sitting day of 2022, the statement has been delivered. That urgency is warranted and important.

Working for the Commonwealth Parliament of Australia should be an immense source of pride, excitement and achievement. It should be the pinnacle of one's career—a place where ideas are explored and debated; where advice, knowledge and expertise are appreciated and valued; where democracy is upheld and celebrated; and where individuals are respected and safe. Sadly, for far too many, their experience has been one of trauma. People have left this place truly broken, careers destroyed, marriages torn apart, young women and men abused and violated, lives devastated. We have listened and we have heard you, and we are sorry. I am sorry.

We are all familiar with the damning findings of the Jenkins review. One in three people currently working in parliamentary workplaces have experienced some form of sexual harassment whilst working here. Over half of all people currently in these workplaces have experienced at least one incident of bullying, sexual harassment or actual or attempted sexual assault. That is truly deeply shocking. Some who took part in this inquiry have endured years of mental and sometimes physical anguish. On behalf of the crossbench, I say, 'We hear you and we thank you for so bravely stepping forward and detailing your experiences. Because of your bravery, this place will be a better workplace for others.' In particular, I wish to acknowledge and thank the brave women who join us in the gallery today: Brittany Higgins, Rachelle Miller, Josie Coles, Chelsey Potter, Chanel Contos. And I acknowledge that many others may also have wished to be here today. These women have shown incredible bravery in speaking out and, in doing so, have empowered others. Their actions have led to the instigation of the Jenkins review, which saw hundreds more step forward. We must not forget that speaking up often comes at a very high personal price. It comes at a price of intrusion into your lives with public scrutiny, and I acknowledge the stress and anxiety that many of you have been under since telling of your experiences. Please know that we understand this is not easy, but it is so important. Similarly, there are many people who, for various reasons, chose not to take part in the review. As the statement of acknowledgement says, we know that, for you too, your experiences have had profound and far-reaching impacts on your lives. So, to you, I say: we see you too, and we will not let you down.

Why is the statement so important? Because, for too long, those who have been bullied, assaulted or victimised have felt ignored, dismissed and moved on. They have felt powerless. This statement today gives them a voice. It formally acknowledges their experiences and the long-lasting impacts of what had happened to them. It's an acknowledgement from all the members of this place of our responsibility to ensure that we provide a gold standard workplace where everyone feels respected and safe. It's ultimately through our actions that we can show our commitment to changing this workplace.

On behalf of the crossbench, I pledge to do everything in my power to ensure that all 28 recommendations of the Set the standard report are fully implemented. As Commissioner Kate Jenkins herself wrote:

The recommendations … are mutually reinforcing and complementary and therefore should not be cherry picked.

Some will be more straightforward than others, and some are more far-reaching than others. The preparation and adoption of codes and standards of conduct for parliamentarians and their staff is urgently needed. As the vast majority of Australian workplaces have codes of conduct in place, it's extraordinary that this place, of all places, is yet to have one.

As the 46th Parliament, we stand at a fork in the road. We can choose to act with integrity and change this place and the way it has operated for too long. The course of action we must take is clear from the Jenkins review. As Commissioner Jenkins sums up:

The challenge of effectively preventing and responding to bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault in these workplaces is significant. The problem is not, however, inevitable, or intractable. There is momentum for change and the proposed Framework for Action in this Report sets out a clear path to ensure that—

these workplaces—

are safe and respectful, uphold the standing of the Parliament and are a worthy reflection of the community that they serve.

Whilst there is much more work to be done to build an equal and safe society, one where women and men are safe, respected and valued, we can start here. So I commend the statement to the House as the first step in raising the standards, of showing the parliament, our communities and our hardworking staff the respect they so richly deserve.