A draft Code of Conduct for the Australian Parliament has been criticized by the Senate Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Standards for lacking detail.
The submission, co-authored by Julia Gillard’s Global Institute for Women’s Leadership (GIWL) and the Australian Political Studies Association (APSA), outlines a simple, principles-based code that aims to create consensus about the types of behavior that are acceptable in the workplace.
The draft code of conduct was developed through a series of workshops held last year that resulted in a seven-point draft document addressing issues of integrity along with parliamentary standards.
GIWL Chief Operating Officer Natalie Barr and ANU Professor Emeritus Marian Sawer, testifying at a special committee hearing Monday morning, took questions from committee chair and Labor MP Sharon Claydon and Green Party Senator Mehreen Faruqi on the Lack of detail in the draft code.
Senator Faruqi expressed concern about the clarity of what constitutes bullying behavior and insufficient specificity regarding disadvantaged groups.
“There are very few people working in Parliament [who have] People from a different ethnic background or people with disabilities and other marginalized areas [sic]’ Faruqi said.
“The effects of harassment and bullying are evidently magnified when racism and discrimination based on disability are added.”
“Why shouldn’t we include things? [that show that] Bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment and racism, are unacceptable?”
However, Barr and Sawer were adamant about the simplicity of the GIWL model, citing best practice in other bicameral jurisdictions.
“I think it’s really helpful to have this overarching code of conduct that’s all really clear, really simple, short and easy to put on a single page. It’s just — be respectful, be professional, don’t harass or bully people,” Barr said.
“In the UK and New Zealand, they each fit on one page.”
Senator Faruqi later pointed to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s definitions of discrimination as a model that offers greater clarity for identifying discrimination in practice, without adding complexity to an already tense area.
“You have summarized very succinctly what these types of discrimination mean,” the senator said of the AHRC’s definitions.
“It would only take one sentence to highlight the types of discrimination they are talking about based on race, disability, age and a few other things.”
Following evidence Tuesday of the complex nature of modern bullying facilitated by digital platforms, Claydon asked what GIWL and the APSA would recommend to prevent workplace bullying from spreading to digital platforms.
While online was not specifically addressed in the filing, Sawer acknowledged that it was “a huge and unsolvable problem” that “no jurisdiction had adequately addressed.”
Claydon also took a subtle challenge to the couple’s claim that “healthy competition for best practice” between the House of Representatives and the Senate – as is the case in the UK – was an acceptable model.
“[I am] I wonder if staff might have a different take on this, especially people who might be moving between houses,” Claydon said.
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