Today is an important day and this is an important debate. As the member for Riverina just acknowledged, we make a lot of speeches in this place. I can’t say I’m up to a thousand speeches yet. I don’t think I’m quite there. But we do make a lot of speeches in this place and it feels like it is important that as many of us as possible make a speech on this particular issue and commit ourselves to setting the standard because that is actually what this is all about. It is about all of us in this place saying that enough is enough, recognising that the work has been done on how this can be a better workplace for us as members, for our staff and for all the people who come into contact with this parliament because, of course, we should be the ones who set the standard.

It is unacceptable that we have been the workplace in Australia that has lagged behind, that somehow we have thought being a different workplace, which I absolutely acknowledge this place is, means we can be a workplace that has lower standards. That is absolutely not what being the parliament of Australia should be. We are the place that does set the standard for so many things across our country. We must also set the standard for ourselves. So today we are making it clear to everyone in this place and in our country that the behaviour that we have seen that has been tolerated here will not be tolerated in the future, that matters will not be swept under the carpet, that we will no longer say that that’s a political thing, so we can’t actually deal with it. It won’t be ignored. It won’t be ‘managed’, as some people have said they felt when bringing complaints forward in the past. These issues will be dealt with.

It’s a year now since the parliament acknowledged the Set the standard report by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins. I’ve thanked the commissioner for her work before, but, once again, I want to acknowledge what an important report that was. The report found that the experience of many staffers and others in this place was of a workplace that was often toxic and harmful. It found that there needed to be long-term cultural change in how our parliamentary workplace operates and that immediate reform was needed. The recommendations put forward in that report have helped to ensure that this workplace and all the workplaces we are connected with, like our electorate offices, are places that are safe and respectful and follow best practice in preventing and responding to bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

I want to acknowledge all the people who came forward to tell their stories as part of the development of the Set the standard report. I know for many people that was not easy, and I want to thank them. Their bravery and courage in bringing forward their stories and being prepared to tell their stories—some publicly and some in private—have meant that we have a much stronger report to respond to as a parliament and that we are on track to being a better workplace. Thank you to all the people who did that for us.

Over the past year, there has been a significant amount of work across the parliament to begin to implement the reforms recommended by Commissioner Jenkins to deliver a safer and more respectful parliamentary workplace for the thousands of people who work here. I acknowledge and thank my colleagues who have been part of the committee working to develop the standards for this place, the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Standards. I particularly acknowledge the work of the Deputy Speaker, my friend the member for Newcastle, who chaired the committee and did so much to bring together and shepherd that work, reminding us all that we are setting the standard and that this is an important part of it. The member for Lalor was also a member of the committee, and the member for North Sydney. I thank them, and others who aren’t here at the moment, for all the work they have done.

We now have before us a draft behaviour standards and codes, including specific codes for parliamentarians and for staff. Of course, the content of these codes is not actually groundbreaking; it is the sort of thing that is in codes of conduct across the country, but it is an important and overdue step forward for this place. We have lagged behind. We can now catch up and become a model workplace. In fact, we can work towards being an exemplar, a workplace that people look to for a standard.

I’ve been a staffer in this place, and I am fortunate that my experience here was inspirational enough to make me want to come back as a member, but that has not been everyone’s experience. What this code of conduct, this report and the work we have to do does is make sure that this is a workplace where people feel inspired, that the spark that brings them here isn’t squashed by a toxic culture or a toxic workplace. That’s what we all must commit ourselves to. As I said, we all recognise that this is a very different workplace to many, but being different does not let us off the hook for bad behaviour. It does not mean that we are so special that codes of conduct and norms of behaviour that apply across the country do not apply to us. It cannot be that.

There is still work to be done. The standards make it clear that complaints made under the code will be taken seriously and dealt with confidentially and independently and that breaches will be met with effective sanctions. I strongly believe that the sanctions and consequences for actions will be an important part of bringing change to this place. The real test of these standards and codes is how we as parliamentarians uphold them—I very much hope that all of us across this place do dedicate ourselves to that, and that is what we are doing—and, in instances where they are not upheld, how we enforce them. Codes that we just pay lip-service to are not real codes, and they will not change the way that this place operates. As the Deputy Chair outlined in her speech, a lot of work has been done on how that system of consequences and enforcement will operate, and I know a lot of that work is still to come. That is work that, as a parliament, we all have to commit ourselves to. This is not a lip-service exercise. This is actually an exercise in changing this place and being genuine about that, and that means signing ourselves up for what comes through all of that. A big part of that will come through the establishment of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission and the way that that operates and is able to administer.

We are not unique in being in this situation in our parliament. Across the Commonwealth, parliaments have looked at this issue of how codes of conduct should operate and what the consequences should be for that experience. So we can draw on those experiences from parliaments in the United Kingdom and in New Zealand—those who have already done some of this work so that we can benefit from their experience to make sure that the work we continue to do, as I said, is not just lip service towards codes of conduct that are really important but also has mechanisms that follow through on that and show both the Australian public and the people who work in this place that all of us as parliamentarians are genuine about this change. We know that we have not behaved. We have not set the standard in a way that we should have.

As we recognise that we are at an important stage today, I think it is important to also understand that in some ways we are just at the beginning. It will take all of us, together, continuing to realise that this will have to be a focus—it’s not a ‘nice to have’; it’s a ‘must have’—to make sure that the code is effective. The work to establish the code has been done. I was really pleased, yesterday in the House and here today in the Federation Chamber, to hear so many members dedicating themselves to upholding the code and, on behalf of the political parties and movements they represent, also dedicating those wider movements towards the codes. We do now, as I said, need to put in place the structures that will ensure that, when breaches do occur, those breaches are dealt with appropriately and that, when misbehaviour or worse happens in this place, the perpetrator is held to account and those who have been impacted by that behaviour get the support and assistance they need.

I’m going to finish again by thanking the people who came forward with their stories and their experience and their passion for making this a better parliament. We all benefit from that. Our country will benefit from that. We owe it to all those people—who have come forward, shared their experiences and done the work—to make this a better parliament and to dedicate ourselves to not just having these codes of conduct but implementing these codes of conduct, upholding them in all of our behaviour and making sure that this is a place that sets the standard for our country.

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