This article mentions sexual harassment and violence.
A federal committee is developing a code of conduct to govern MPs, senators and staff following scandals and damning reports about the culture in Australia’s parliamentary workplace.
The Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Standards has been tasked with developing a code of conduct for elected officials, parliamentary staff and parliamentary workplaces to “ensure safe and respectful behaviour”.
The committee, led by Labor MP Sharon Claydon as chair and Liberal senator Marice Payne as vice-chair, is due to issue its final report by November 1.
In a statement to the inquiry, Youth and Early Years Minister Anne Alley called for Australia’s parliamentary code of conduct to cover racism, racial harassment and sexual harassment, and for it to be included in any proposed training programs for staff, MPs and senators.
Dr Ali wrote that she had “witnessed and experienced instances of subtle racism and microaggressions against people of color in Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces”.
“No code of conduct that seeks to change workplace culture would be complete without acknowledging that such behavior exists in our workplace, that it has a detrimental effect on workplace culture, and has serious consequences for those exposed to it.” , – she wrote.
While Australia has state and federal laws that make racial harassment illegal, Dr Ali told SBS News those standards “should also be reflected in our [parliamentary] norms of behavior”.
“I think it’s imperative that we have the same kinds of protections that we have from sexual harassment and from other forms of harassment that we have for people of color, people of cultural and linguistic backgrounds, in the same way that we have them on our workplaces across the country, and in the same way that they are built into our state and federal laws,” she said.
What is racial sexual harassment?
In her submission to the inquiry, Dr Ali referred to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s paper, Setting the Standard: An Independent Review of Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces, by Gender Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, which “highlights the importance of taking an intersectional approach to understanding bullying”. workplace, sexual harassment and sexual assault, and how to prevent and respond to these types of behavior.”
“The review addresses people who identify as First Nations and those who identify as culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD), including those who often feel excluded and unsafe in their workplaces,” she wrote.
“As someone who identifies as a person of color and CALD, I am concerned that racial harassment and racism are not included in [inquiry’s terms of reference] with the risk of being excluded from the proposed codes of conduct.’
Dr Ali warned racial sexual harassment – “defined as harassing behavior that combines race and gender at the same time” – was being ignored in the new code of conduct.
“Examples of racialized sexual harassment include comments about appearance that highlight gender and ethnicity, but can also include instances where women of color are dismissed or less likely to be believed when they report harassment or assault,” she wrote.
“Studies in the United States have shown that black women experience more violent and physical forms of sexual harassment, such as unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion, than white women.”
What is intersectionality?
The Harmony Alliance, which represents women from migrant and refugee backgrounds, has called for a new code of conduct to “implement the principles of interconnectedness and gender equality”.
“Intersectionality theory recognizes that the intersection of various forms of systemic discrimination and barriers creates a greater disadvantage for groups of people who are not dominant and do not have equal access to power and privilege than dominant groups,” the group wrote in its report. in the request.
“People from migrant and refugee backgrounds, and especially women from migrant and refugee backgrounds, are affected by many forms of systemic disadvantage and inequality.
“In the context of parliamentary workplaces, framing the Code through an intersectional lens can be a solution to promoting equality of access, experience and outcomes for women in all their diversity.”
The 47th Parliament is the most diverse in Australia’s history and “parliamentary policies and procedures must reflect the diversity of the Australian population,” the Harmony Alliance wrote.
Dr. Ellie drew on her own experiences to explain the concept of intersectionality.
“The way I describe it is, when I walk into a room, I don’t just walk in as a woman or a woman parliamentarian, I also walk in as a woman of color. I also come out as a woman from a religious minority, I also come out as a whole range of other parts of my identity,” she told SBS News.
“And so, especially if it’s racial sexual harassment or racial harassment, it’s very important to call it out, to call it racial or racial sexual harassment. A lot of times it’s put in the basket of bullying or harassment in general, but it’s really important that people who are subjected to this kind of harassment and this kind of behavior recognize that they’re being racially or racially sexualized.”
Will a code of conduct solve Parliament’s cultural problems?
The federal parliament’s code of conduct enforcement body will not be able to solve all cultural problems but will help promote change, an inquiry was told this week.
Department of Parliamentary Services Secretary Rob Stefanik said the inquiry needed further clarification on how the new code enforcement body would work alongside other departments in Parliament.
“I don’t think creating new organizations is necessarily a panacea, I think the policies, training and reforms that underpin it are more important,” he said.
“Clarity will be essential in exactly what this service does … the code of conduct is an important framework, but all the cultural work that comes from that will be a critical element.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has committed to the code of conduct, following recommendations from Ms Jenkins’ landmark workplace culture review at Parliament House.
The Gender Discrimination Commissioner told the hearing that the code for parliamentary staff should be consistent with other codes for federal civil servants.
“Establishing these enforced codes of conduct is a key step in ensuring a safe and respectful environment free from bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault,” she said.
“The piece of paper isn’t necessarily going to change things on its own, but it should support that and support those other recommendations that we’ve made around diversity, equality and inclusion.”
The inquiry is also looking into whether the new standards body can impose sanctions on MPs and senators without interfering with the work of parliament.
Ms Jenkins said that while it was unlikely the commission would be able to impose sanctions or force an MP to be expelled from Parliament, there were other avenues of action if an MP was found to have breached the code.
“The consequences we came up with that wouldn’t interfere with the work of Parliament … (if he) were to attend training sessions or perhaps issue an apology,” she said.
With additional AAP reporting.
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