Media release - Recommendations to address harassment in parliamentary workplace

The Equal Opportunity Commission’s Review of Harassment in the South Australian Parliament Workplace has recommended sweeping changes to address harassment and discriminatory behaviour. 

The review examined how workplace sexual and discriminatory harassment is managed and reported in the parliament workplace, as well as opportunities to better prevent harassment and improve the current policies and procedures. The review report was tabled in State Parliament today.

Interim Equal Opportunity Commissioner Steph Halliday said the review, overseen by previous Acting Commissioner Emily Strickland, found that sexual and discriminatory harassment is prevalent in the parliamentary workplace.  

The review included a survey of those currently working in the parliamentary workplace (Parliament House, Ministers’ Offices and electorate offices), interviews and written submissions. People formerly employed within Parliament (and those who considered that they had relevant experiences to contribute) were also invited to participate. 

“Of the 199 survey respondents who answered the questions about experiences of sexual harassment, almost a third (27.1%) said they had experienced sexual harassment in the parliamentary workplace,” Ms Halliday said.  

“Of the 16 participants who were interviewed as part of the review process, six described being victims of sexual harassment in the past five years, as did two of the 16 people who provided written submissions. 

“All of those alleged incidents involved either Members of Parliament or staff of Members of Parliament as perpetrators.” 

Ms Halliday said the allegations ranged in seriousness and included sexually suggestive and unwelcome comments, indecent exposure and physical assault. Information was made available to respondents about relevant complaint bodies and support services.  

Ms Halliday said many survey respondents (31.6%) also said they had experienced offensive comments or jokes made about protected personal attributes under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984, with almost half of these identified as a pattern of behaviour that had been ongoing for more than 12 months.  

Most of the survey respondents who reported experiencing sexual harassment (77.8%) did not report the harassment.  

The review report said there was a lack of complaint-handling procedures in the parliamentary workplace, complaints management was not consistent with modern workplace standards and there was “an absence of clear and consistent policy that speaks to behavioural standards required in the parliamentary workplace”.

The review made 16 recommendations aimed at supporting the development of a safe and inclusive workplace including:    

  • The establishment of a centralised human resources function to support consistent policy and practice across the parliamentary workplace.
  • The development of a number of strategies, policies, procedures and training programs including: a behavioural code; sanctions for breaching the code; a robust complaints procedure; a strategy to increase diversity and encourage inclusivity; a gender equity framework and family friendly workforce strategy; sexual harassment and discriminatory harassment policies; training and induction about harassment and complaints processes; and Work Health and Safety policies, procedures and training.
  • A code of conduct for Members of Parliament, with robust processes and sanctions for breaching the code.
  • A commitment to cultural change by both Houses of Parliament, by expressing support for the recommendations and adopting a motion that harassment in the parliamentary workplace will not be tolerated.
  • A SafeWork SA compliance audit related to work, health and safety laws, with a focus on harassment be undertaken within two years.
  • That consideration be given to amending the Equal Opportunity Act to create a positive duty on employers to prevent sexual and discriminatory harassment.
  • That Standing Orders are reviewed to allow breast and bottle feeding in the Chamber.

“I’d like to thank all of those people who contributed to this review, and I commend both Houses of Parliament for shining a light on these issues,” Ms Halliday said. 

“This review shows there is work to be done to ensure the parliamentary workplace is one that is safe and respectful and that where there are allegations of improper conduct that these are managed appropriately. 

“It will be up to Parliament to determine next steps but I have offered the support and advice of the Commission in implementing the report’s recommendations and I hope that this report will be the first step towards meaningful, purposeful cultural change.” 

More information, including the review report, is available on the Equal Opportunity Commission website.