Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins to lead review into Parliament House workplace culture

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins will lead a review into Parliament House's workplace culture. Picture: Getty
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins will lead a review into Parliament House's workplace culture. Picture: Getty

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins will lead a months-long review of Parliament House's workplace culture after recent rape allegations rocked federal politics.

Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins triggered the inquiry after she went public with sexual assault allegations against a former colleague in February.

The alleged 2019 rape sparked heavy criticism over the treatment of women in politics and the government's handling of sensitive issues.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said on Friday he had been working across political parties to decide the terms of reference for the review.

"The Parliament of Australia should set the standard for the nation," he said.

Ms Jenkins said first-hand experiences would be critical to building a safer, more equal workplace.

"We recognise the significant public interest in this issue and the need to ensure matters will be treated with sensitivity, confidentiality, and be trauma-informed," she said.

"I urge every staff member to share their experiences with us via a written submission or interview."

Ms Jenkins will receive scope to hear confidentially from former and serving staff and politicians on how to make cultural changes to prevent assault, harassment and bullying.

The review will also assess whether existing frameworks and legislation promote or impede safe and respectful workplaces.

University of Sydney media and sexual violence expert Professor Catharine Lumby said she was pleased with the appointment of Ms Jenkins but added the review was only the first step toward reform.

"The second step ... is to look at how this is going to be embedded into the DNA of political culture," Professor Lumby told The Canberra Times.

"Too often we have inquiries and they are not followed up with evidence-based education programs that genuinely engage people and give them reasons to buy in and really understand the problem.

"Then it's got to be ongoing and evaluated and further research should be done."

Senator Birmingham said the findings would be made available before the end of the year with an interim report expected in four months.

"It is so important to get this work done and to get it done properly," Senator Birmingham said.

"It's important for the victims of bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

"The commissioner, who contributed to the terms of the inquiry, is due to hand down her final report in November after making interim findings public in July."

Small business ombudsman and former ACT Chief Minister Kate Carnell said politicians shouldn't wait until the review delivered its findings and recommendations to instil change.

"You don't have to wait for the review to tell you what a respectful workplace looks like," Ms Carnell told The Canberra Times.

"Hopefully, our politicians do know what a respectful workplace looks like already.

"We should just see change immediately."


Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese added Ms Jenkins would have a big job ahead of her identifying the contributing factors and working to remove an entrenched culture.

"Quite clearly, we need significant reform," Mr Albanese said on Friday.

"[The reform] needs to have proper services so that people know where to get assistance. It needs to be transparent processes in terms of complaints, including at arm's length from those in positions of existing power so people can have confidence to go forward either on a confidential basis.

"So this is a big job. It's important that it be done and that there be confidence in the system."

Senator Birmingham said the events of the past few weeks made him concerned good people would be deterred from entering politics unless changes were made.

"If we can set that example and be an exemplar for the nation, then hopefully that can give people the confidence to step forward and to work in our parliament," he said.

Ms Higgins has reinstated her formal police complaint and believes Parliament should be the safest building in Australia.

- with AAP

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