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Power disparity worries parliament staff

A review into employment law governing parliamentarians and their staff has made 15 recommendations to address concerns about the power disparity.

October 7, 2022
By Dominic Giannini
7 October 2022

A landmark review into the employment relationship between parliamentarians and their staff has described a power imbalance sparking culture concerns.

Employees told a review into the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act there isn’t a culture of raising issues or complaints in parliamentary offices with staff acutely aware of the power disparity.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet review says there is a perception from staff they can be too easily fired through a process that “lacks procedural fairness”.

It also heard concerns that procedures enabling parliamentarians to fire staff shouldn’t be lengthy or onerous. 

The review found while the current act is “broadly appropriate” it needed to better clarify employee positions and responsibilities.

“Contributors told us about times when they were mistreated at work, or witnessed unacceptable behaviour in their workplace, with those responsible frequently not held to account,” it said.

“For them, the MoP(S) Act employment framework did not provide sufficient guidance or support to employees or employing parliamentarians about the … responsibilities attached to their roles.”

Parliamentarians also told the review they found it challenging to manage employees, offices and budgets under the act, having no experience and limited support.

Both the government and opposition welcomed the report and provided in-principle agreement to all recommendations.

Minister for Women Katy Gallagher said all political staff deserve a safe and respectful workplace.

“This review is another important building block that will further drive systemic change within parliamentary workplaces to achieve this goal,” she said.

Deputy Liberal leader and the opposition’s spokeswoman for women Sussan Ley added parliamentarians needed to do everything possible to oversee a cultural shift.

The review made 15 recommendations including clarifying staff roles, more transparency regarding employment terms and conditions and creating a more professional framework.

But the department says the review should be used alongside the Set the Standard report, which investigated parliament’s workplace culture.

That report detailed high rates of bullying, sexual harassment and assaults within parliament. 

“We are doing everything we can to make the parliament an exceptional place to work, and that means ensuring it is a respectful and safe workplace,” she said.

The release of the review comes a day after a lower house committee launched a new inquiry to oversee the Set the Standards recommendation of eliminating sexist and discriminatory language and behaviour in the chamber.

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