Tania Maxwell moves to make Parliament a safer workplace

Media statement

March 22, 2022

Tania Maxwell MP wants major party and cross bench support for a Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission inquiry into workplace safety in Victoria’s Parliament.

The Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria will put a motion to the Legislative Council tomorrow that would direct Parliament’s presiding officers, with the agreement of both houses, to ask the commission to establish the review.

“The Victorian Parliament has an important role to play as an exemplar of best practice in the prevention of, and response to, bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault in workplaces,” Ms Maxwell said.

“But we’re out of step with the community’s rightful expectations in 2022.

“Victoria’s code of conduct for ministers is dead-silent on these issues.

“And so is the Members of Parliament (Standards) Act 1978 which sets out MP responsibilities, and Parliament’s standing orders, which apply only to MPs when they’re inside either of the chambers.

“On the other hand, the codes of conduct for Victorian parliamentary officers and for electorate officers are clear – these staff must follow the spirit and letter of discrimination, harassment, bullying and victimisation laws.

“Yet Parliament is a workplace for MPs, electorate officers, parliamentary advisers, ministerial staff, parliamentary officers, parliamentary precinct employees and contractors.

“There is not a single mechanism for all who work here that ensures we can be held to the same standards of behaviour, that we can be safe, and that an independent workplace standards body is available to deal with complaints free from political interference.

“That’s why I’m moving for the VEOHRC to examine the adequacy of existing laws, policies, structures and complaint mechanisms relating to bullying and harassment in the Victorian Parliament.

“My motion also asks the commission to advise on improvements and the establishment of an independent complaints body to manage and respond to complaints about bullying and harassment within the Parliament in the context of a confidential and supportive environment.”

Ms Maxwell said a proposal flowing from consultation with MPs in 2020 and 2021 to establish a ‘Workplace Standards Commissioner’ appeared to have gone nowhere.

“But such a standards commissioner would have dealt only with complaints about MP behaviour, according to what we were told at the time,” she said.

Motion

That this House —

(1) acknowledges the unacceptable history of bullying and harassment in workplaces;

(2) understands the important role the Victorian Parliament can play as an exemplar of best practice in the prevention and response to bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault in workplaces;

(3) recognises that the Victorian Parliament is a workplace for Members of Parliament, electorate officers, parliamentary advisers, ministerial staff, parliamentary officers and precinct employees and contractors;

(4) directs the Presiding Officers to jointly write to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner requesting that the Commission inquire into and report to the Presiding Officers on —

(a) the adequacy of existing laws, policies, structures and complaint mechanisms relating to bullying and harassment in the Victorian Parliament;

(b) improvements that may be made to existing laws, policies, structures and complaint mechanisms relating to bullying and harassment in the Victorian Parliament;

(c) whether an independent complaints body should be established to provide a mechanism to manage and respond to complaints about bullying and harassment within the Victorian Parliament, in the context of a confidential and supportive environment;

(5) requires the Commissioner to commence such an inquiry by consulting with the following employers affected by these terms of reference —

(a) Presiding Officers;

(b) Clerk of the Legislative Assembly;

(c) Clerk of the Legislative Council;

(d) Secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services;

(e) Parliamentary Budget Officer;

(f) Executive Government;

(g) any other relevant employers identified by the Commissioner;

(6) requires the Presiding Officers to table the report in both Houses of Parliament;

and requests the agreement of the Legislative Assembly to the terms of this Resolution.

This statement was first posted on March 22, 2022, and updated when the Clerk of the Legislative Council recommended changes to the motion ahead of its tabling in the chamber.