The ABC reports MPs and their senior staff will be given one hour of training, which they can choose whether or not to attend. Junior parliamentary staffers will receive two hours of training, which may be mandatory.
The issue isn’t as cut and dried as parliamentary staffers would like. Because MPs are given their place in the parliament by the people, putting mandatory obligations on them is difficult and usually requires an act of parliament itself – like motions, or legislation. Until then, the training can just be ‘strongly recommended’. The latest bout of training is expected to be on top of existing and ongoing training provided to MPs and their staff. A pilot program has been under way.
The public sector union though, says the “half-hearted” response does nothing to address their members’ concerns.
“The proposal for optional one-hour training will not meet the desperate need to educate parliamentarians, senior staff and office mangers on protecting staff from sexual harassment and bullying and establish appropriate standards for workplace behaviour,” national secretary Melissa Donnelly said.
“This is just a tick and flick exercise. The Morrison government has no interest in meaningful workplace change. If this is a preview of what can be expected from the government with the Jenkins review implementation, then nothing will change.”
The Greens spokesperson for women, Larissa Waters, who had tried to address the lack of workplace protection for parliamentary staffers even before Higgins went public with her own story, was even more plainly spoken.
“One hour and optional is an absolutely outrage. It’s almost as if the government don’t think MPs are part of the problem, when that is so patently not the case,” she said.
“Sexual harassment and workplace safety training should be mandatory, ongoing, and delivered by experts. The government is still not listening to women, who are harassed in most workplaces right across the nation. This is not a tick-a-box exercise as the Morrison government seems to think it is. We need a binding and enforceable code of conduct for all MPs to change the toxic boys club culture of parliament.”
Tanya Plibersek, who has been heavily involved with addressing issues raised by women through the Labor process, said the opposition has already instigated training for its senior staff.
“This training should be mandatory. It’s disappointing that the government has refused to do this,” she said.
“Labor has written to the Foster review calling for mandatory sexual harassment training for all parliamentarians.
“Ensuring the parliament is a safe workplace is everyone’s business.
“That’s why Labor has already begun rolling out training on the prevention of sexual harassment and workplace bullying for our senior staff.”
The department of finance has been contacted for comment.
The national women’s safety summit, announced by Scott Morrison in an attempt to try and quell Australia-wide anger at the lack of action on women’s safety in general, has also been quietly postponed.
“The summit will build on prior consultation activities and will focus on key issues affecting women’s safety including the prevention of violence, technology and abuse, coercive control, policing and justice responses, sexual violence, frontline service delivery and innovation, violence experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, service delivery in rural and remote areas and strengthening partnerships with the private sector to prevent and reduce violence.