Changing the culture - Codes of conduct for the Commonwealth Parliament

Author/editor: Barr, N., Maley, M., Sawer, M., Baker, K., and Ryan, M.K.
Year published: 2022

Abstract

Submission by the Global Institute for Women's Leadership to the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Standards inquiry into the development of codes of conduct for Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces and related matters. 

2021 was a turning point for Australia’s parliamentary workplaces. Revelations of sexism, misogyny and bullying led to a reckoning that could not be ignored. The Set the Standard report by the Australian Human Rights Commission received evidence from 1,723 individuals and 33 organisations. While it is easy with the passage of time to forget the shock of its findings, the 51 per cent of people in Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces who reported suffering sexual harassment or bullying must not be forgotten as the Committee undertakes its work to implement the report’s recommendation to develop a code of conduct.

While there are challenges and technical issues the Committee needs to work through, these are not insurmountable. The codes must cover both culture and behaviour for everyone in the parliamentary precinct and be enforceable with real consequences for those who break it. 

Historically, parliamentary privilege has been a major obstacle to improving workplace culture and providing parliamentarians with clear obligations. However there is a groundswell of support for change in the community. The cross-party support for the implementation of the Set the Standard Recommendations and the establishment of the Parliamentary Leadership Taskforce indicates that like other democratic institutions both in Australia and overseas, the Australian federal parliament is now committed to making the changes needed to ensure safety and respect in its workplaces.

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