QUESTION TIME

Helen Haines (Indi): My question is to the Prime Minister.

The nation is watching this Parliament’s response to the events of the past month and is crying out for action on the appalling treatment of women.

Right now, there are two bills before the House:

  • The Sex Discrimination Commissioner bill from the member for Warringah, and
  • the Parliamentary Standards Bill I introduced last October

These are two good faith bills that, if passed, would make a concrete difference and demonstrate to the nation that the Prime Minister is willing to finally act and show real leadership.

Why won’t you support these bills so we can pass them as a matter of urgency?

Prime Minister: I thank the member for her question.

Our national parliament should aim to be a model workplace. That’s the standard that we must set together in this place, and I’m sure all members would agree with that very statement.

We have taken a number of steps in the past few weeks to address the concerns raised by current and former staff and by parliamentarians. The members will be aware of the changes that have already been made to the counselling support service.

I hope to receive very shortly recommendations from the deputy secretary of my department regarding a complaints process that can be put in place as an interim and before awaiting the outcome of the Jenkins review that is being done on a multi-partisan basis.

The government has announced an independent review into the Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces, which is being led by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Ms Kate Jenkins. And we’re going to await the findings of that review before doing an assessment of the issues raised in the bill, but I’m saying that we will be acting on the matters that are being forward by the deputy secretary, which I think will make a real change in terms of the workplace practices in this building. I have no doubt that those types of changes will be supported.

So whether it is the matters that are raised in the bill that you have referred to that has been brought forward under your own name or those that have been brought forward by the member for Warringah, we appreciate that all efforts need to be taken to address sexual harassment.

The draft bill that has been put forward by the member for Warringah, as I noted, does represent a fundamental change to the application of the Sex Discrimination Act so that it might apply to all areas of people’s public and private lives. Among others, this would have the effect of expanding the Australian Human Rights Commission’s function to matters arising in private life. That is my understanding of that arrangement, on the advice that I have.

The bill would also make the Sex Discrimination Act out of step with other anti-discrimination legislation, which focuses on discrimination in public life. I’m looking forward to, shortly, being able to provide a response to the Respect@Work report, which I also believe should have been done well before this time. I look forward to doing that in the very near future. We will take action on that, as we have taken action on the national health plan in the past, and we will continue to take action on these important matters.

The SPEAKER: The member for Indi?

Dr Haines: On relevance: I also asked about the Commonwealth Parliamentary Standards Bill.

The SPEAKER: The Prime Minister has concluded his answer, so I need to move to the next question.

View the Prime  Minister’s response in the video opposite.

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