Ministerial staff not protected against bullying, harassment

Measures to protect ministerial staff against bullying and sexual misconduct are unclear, ineffective and inadequate, a report has found.

Pru Goward

Former federal sex discrimination commissioner Pru Goward says there should be policies and procedures to ensure a respectful workplace culture for ministerial staff, the same as for those in the public sector.

“However this review has concluded that the protections and processes available to ministerial staff are unclear, ineffective and inadequate,” she concludes.

Her review found outdated policies, lack of training, no avenues for formal investigation and poor prevention and early intervention systems.

Recommendations accepted

The government has accepted all Ms Goward’s  recommendations, which include establishing an independent complaints process and an official respectful workplace policy.

“I am keen to adopt all the recommendations and there will be an opportunity for consultation in the next phase of this process,” Premier Gladys Berjiklian said in a statement.

The report recommends:

  • establishing an independent process for people who don’t want their complaint handled within a ministerial office
  • development of a best practice respectful workplace policy
  • more training for staff and chiefs
  • annual anonymous surveys of ministers and their staff

Unique workplaces

Ms Berejiklian ordered the review following a series of scandals in federal parliament including the alleged rape of former political staffer Brittany Higgins.

Although it wasn’t the focus of the current review, Ms Goward said the Australian Human rights Commission puts sexual harassment in the workplace at 33 per cent, while a South Australian Parliamentary Inquiry estimated it to be more than 27 per cent.

Ms Goward says it’s unlikely that the figures for NSW ministerial offices are any different, although no records exist.

However she said ministerial workplace are unique for a number of reasons.

Staff appointments are subjective, management structures are flat and value is placed on loyalty to the minister, Ms Goward said.

As well as this, the political ambitions of staff may make them less likely to complain.

And when they do, the approach under the current system is to “raise it with the Chief of Staff”.

No recourse to unfair dismissal laws

The Members of Parliament Staff (MOPS) Act allows staff to be dismissed without recourse to unfair dismissal legislation or the protections available to people in other workplaces.

Ministerial staff have a legal entitlement to a safe and secure workplace, Ms Goward said.

“As the public sector has increasingly lifted its management standards over the years, the gap between the policy and processes for complaint handling available to public servants and those for ministerial staff members has become more apparent,” she says.

“Expectations that ministerial offices should be professionally managed have also risen, inevitably forcing the case for change.”

The Victorian auditor general raised similar concerns in a report late last year which found councils are failing to provide workplaces that are free from sexual harassment, and that more than one in four respondents have been sexually harassed in the last 12 months.

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One thought on “Ministerial staff not protected against bullying, harassment

  1. In addition, MPs and senators should be required to undertake basic staff management courses. Most of them have previously not run anything other than a warm bath.

    Likewise, chiefs of staff should undergo such training. Too many of them have risen through the ranks as political advisors with no external management experience.

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