It’s not a boys’ club anymore. But there’s more to do inside Parliament

Australia has nearly achieved gender parity in parliament, with women making up 43% of the majority Labor government. It’s a refreshing change after so many years of Scott Morrison lies, broken promises and a government that protects men at all costs.

But a different government doesn’t necessarily mean a different parliament, and just having more women in the mix doesn’t guarantee a less toxic culture.

This three-part series will explore exactly what needs to change in parliament (and whose responsibility it is to change it), why change will be slow in coming, and how parliament should be the leading example of modern workplaces that are fair to people. sexes.

Major changes to watch

Parliamentary Culture Review by Gender Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, Set the standard, painted a picture of a toxic and dangerous workplace with limited liability for abusers. It found that 37% of people had experienced some form of bullying, one in three some form of sexual harassment and 1% actual or attempted sexual assault.

The review made 28 recommendations, some of which have already been implemented, including the creation of an independent parliamentary standards commission to respond to complaints, training in best practices for MPs and an acknowledgment of abuse and harassment in the within Parliament.

Along with implementing all of Jenkins’ recommendations, Labor has also agreed to implement all 55 recommendations of Jenkins’ wider report on Australian workplaces, ‘[email protected]’.

Here’s what else to look for:

  • A positive duty of care in all Australian workplaces to prevent sexual discrimination and harassment, as recommended in the [email protected] report
  • A code of conduct for parliamentarians and staff, established by the Standing Joint Committee on Parliamentary Standards
  • Diversity objectives and public communication of the characteristics of diversity among parliamentarians and staff
  • No more late-night votes or extended working hours following the revision of the agenda
  • No more insults, abusive, sexist or discriminatory comments used in parliamentary chambers (including Question Time) imposed by Speakers
  • Complaints — current and past — will be handled by the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service.

A good first step towards a diverse Parliament

Parliament’s lack of diversity, Jenkins found, meant that other groups were marginalized and vulnerable to misconduct, discrimination, intimidation and assault. The 47th Legislature has a record number of female politicians, Indigenous and Independent, with four new First Nations representatives and three new Independents.

Although the overhaul of parliamentary workplaces is not in the job descriptions of newly elected women, Blair Williams, senior lecturer at the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at the Australian National University (ANU) Crikey it’s a good first step.

“It’s not just the group of pale, stale men and I think that will bring about change. It’s eroding this boys club — especially this liberal boys club — that we’ve seen in politics for some time,” says -she.

Despite the diversity of this Parliament, she said, more needs to be done: “The Coalition is massively [gender parity] back – the level of female representation has not changed and they need to do something.

Parliament should introduce diversity targets and publish public reports on its characteristics – which will highlight where it is falling behind and whether representation extends to staff members.

As Sonia Palmieri, Gender Policy Fellow at ANU, tells Crikey, the new, more diverse Parliament is “a first but really just a first step towards cultural change”.

A respectful work environment with regular hours

While it is still a majority government, with fewer politicians representing the two main parties, it is hoped that the protection racket seen during the Coalition’s nine-year rule will be halted.

Palmieri thinks fewer career politicians and more independents coming from a wide range of work backgrounds mean mediocre behavior previously ignored as “the norm” will not be tolerated.

“They come from workplaces that don’t expect to see bullying and harassment as some kind of norm, which we’ve seen over the past two decades, she says.

“They come from workplaces where accountability is now built in, so they are the ones who are going to hold Parliament to account [and] anchor new norms, rules and expectations.

Much of Parliament’s cultural problems stem from staff feeling isolated after flying to Canberra, working long hours in a ‘work hard, play hard’ culture fueled by excessive drinking and the unpredictability of working hours.

The Standing Joint Committee on Parliamentary Standards is tasked with reviewing working hours, alcohol policies and the code of conduct – but it remains to be seen how well these will be enforced.

“What we’d really like to see is a different workplace for members as well, and it really comes down to the hours, which then set the tone for things like drinking and mid-level dinners and parties. work,” says Palmieri.

“It’s about Parliament accepting that it doesn’t need to function as this one-stop-shop because everyone has to fly in and maximize the time they’re there. We now have many different ways of working as we have come to understand over the past two years.

An example-based approach

The election showed that Australians had had enough of politicians’ combative approach and were looking for a softer style of leadership.

The executive chair of the McKell Institute in Queensland, Rachel Nolan – who is a former Labor MP for Queensland – thinks Albanese’s leadership style will have a huge impact on how other MPs behave – more so, she said, that the modification of working hours.

“Just because you work long hours doesn’t mean there has to be a culture associated with it,” she says.

The addition of a ‘critical mass’ of women, coupled with Albanese’s style of leadership, will make Parliament ‘a more inclusive and thoughtful place’.

“The leader is absolutely setting the tone…it’s likely that the nature of parliamentary debate will change,” she said.

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