The state’s house of governance should be a shining light to workplaces throughout NSW. It’s not.
Parliamentary chambers throughout Australia came under increased scrutiny when Liberal Party staffer Brittany Higgins alleged she was raped in a ministerial office in Canberra.
In NSW, Parliament House has been rocked by allegations of bullying from Coalition, Labor and Greens MPs in both chambers, as well as a report damning the workplace’s culture.
A review of workplace culture in State Parliament and electoral offices, conducted by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick found that five staff members had experienced actual or attempted sexual assaults at work.
In addition, more than a third of respondents said they had been bullied or sexually harassed in the preceding five years. About 450 people replied to the survey.
In an article published in the online newspaper The Guardian, Labor staffer and PSA Delegate Peta Waller-Bryant wrote: “No-one should have to feel ‘lucky’ that they avoid being regularly abused, bullied or assaulted as part of their work. But such is the daily reality for too many employees in Parliament.”
“In any normal workplace, a misconduct complaint would see all parties afforded a sensitive and procedurally fair investigation process without bias. That has never existed for us. The legislative scheme covering our employment, introduced in 2013, specifically excludes us from the protections within the Industrial Relations Act. We can be fired without reason or notice at any time, with no available unfair dismissal processes. We also have no rights to be consulted on any changes to our employment.”
General Secretary of the PSA/CPSU NSW, Stewart Little, said Ms Broderick’s findings were “serious and urgent”.
“Since the current Government passed the Member of Parliament Staff Act, MPs’ staff have been insecure workers, prevented from accessing the most basic workplace protections that are available to other employees in NSW,” said Mr Little. “These vulnerable workers operate in workplaces with substantial power imbalances and limited access to effective reporting mechanisms when misconduct is perpetrated against them.
“These workers do not have a seat at the table to negotiate or consult on their workplace conditions and protections. They can be sacked without warning or reason at any time.”
Assistant General Secretary, Troy Wright, said the Broderick Report “demonstrates these elements have combined to create a dangerous environment for bullying, sexual harassment and assault.
“This must change. Every leader in NSW Parliament has a solemn duty to treat the findings and recommendations in this report with the respect, urgency and seriousness they deserve.”
The PSA has drawn up a bill it believes will improve working conditions for staff in Parliament, giving them the right to take their case to the Industrial Relations Commission and making sure they do not answer solely to the MP they work for.