It is a pleasure to second this vital and overdue bill from the member for Warringah, and I commend the member’s leadership and initiative.
It’s this kind of initiative that, regrettably, we haven’t seen from the government to amend this bill themselves. As the member for Warringah pointed out, a mere three of the 55 recommendations from the Respect@Work report that Sex Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kate Jenkins handed to the Attorney-General over a year ago have been implemented. Three out of 55 is quite simply appalling.
I’m certain Australians will not tolerate similar treatment of any recommendations that come out of Dr Jenkins’s next review of workplace culture here in Parliament House. This bill corrects a glaring gap in the Sex Discrimination Act. The act specifies the circumstances in which sexual harassment is prohibited. Unfortunately, it’s drafted in a way that excludes statutory appointees like MPs and judges from being protected from or liable for sexual harassment. For over a decade, inquiries and reviews have pointed this out and called on successive governments to amend the act to expressly include MPs and judges. A decade of no action is also quite simply appalling.
Since I arrived in this place, it has, sadly, become clear to me that the government has essentially no interest in advancing integrity policy and reform in this country. For example, last October I introduced the Commonwealth Parliamentary Standards Bill to this House. That bill would establish a code of conduct for all MPs and their staff that prohibits the mistreatment and harassment of any person in this workplace, including sexual harassment. That bill would also establish an independent parliamentary standards commissioner, who would confidentially handle complaints from MPs and their staff who’ve been mistreated, and would put the needs of victims first. I asked the Attorney-General on numerous occasions last year to allow me to debate that bill, but I was refused.
This afternoon, tens of thousands of Australians will march in the streets to tell the government that they’re fed up with inaction on important issues like this. Just imagine if the government had actually tried to progress the work a year ago when the Respect@Work report was handed over to the Attorney-General. Just imagine the position we’d be in to respond to the horrific allegations that have surfaced over the past months if the government had been courageous enough to debate the Commonwealth Parliamentary Standards Bill. Just imagine if this bill brought today by the member for Warringah was debated and enacted.
How long will it take for the government to realise that bills like these are not political show ponies or dog whistles, that bills like these are real, urgent, evidence based reform that would make our workplace safer; that bills like these would start to restore the respect and trust that Australians have lost in this government and this institution?
I commend this bill to the House and I call on the government to debate this and other integrity bills that are before the House without delay.