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Staffers win change after government had pushed to keep parts of parliamentary culture review secret | Australian politics From “World news | The Guardian”



Political staffers have succeeded in a last-ditch campaign to ensure the looming Jenkins review into parliamentary culture didn’t create the opportunity for historical documents to be suppressed by federal ministers or departmentsGuardian Australia revealed on Wednesday there was growing agitation in staff ranks about potential overreach with the secrecy protections associated with the Jenkins review into workplace culture at Parliament House.Staff concerns were appeased, however, with the major parties and the crossbench passing legislation in the lower house on Thursday night.Former Coalition and Labor staff, backed by Lucy Turnbull and Thérèse Rein – the spouses of Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd – had raised concerns the proposed legislation, which ensures submissions to the review could not be obtained under freedom of information (FoI) laws, also contained a clause that gave ministers and agencies a broad-ranging FoI exemption.The concern was staff could lose rights to access pertinent documents held by their former employers if those documents were presented to the Jenkins review.Former Liberal and Labor staff argued the Jenkins review should not compound the difficulties of people attempting to get legitimate grievances addressed – and the independent MP, Zali Steggall, proposed amendments to address the concerns.A negotiation ensued over new wording that would ensure the legislation did not affect existing FoI rights except in relation to staff submissions. Agreement was secured late on Thursday and the legislation passed the House of Representatives. It had passed the Senate during the last parliamentary sitting week.The looming review, to be undertaken by Kate Jenkins, Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner, was set up in the wake of the sexual assault allegation levelled by the former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins.Steggall told the lower house on Thursday night the review was a critical step in ensuring parliamentary staff were treated with “dignity and respect” and there were “clear and effective mechanisms to prevent and address bullying, sexual harassment, and sexual assault”.“This is an incredibly significant inquiry and it is important that we get the protections right to ensure the confidence of witnesses,” Steggall said.“Many potential witnesses to the inquiry contacted me personally highlighting their concerns … I want to thank those women for their courage.“These women were concerned that the bill, if unamended, had a potential overreach that would prevent them from accessing historical documents that they would otherwise be entitled to under existing FoI legislation.“The amendment clarifies that the exemption from FoI requests only extends to documents [created] for the purpose of the independent review.”The bill will have to be amended in the Senate when parliament returns in May for the budget session but Jenkins has made it clear the delay in securing final passage will not inhibit the work of the review. The sex discrimination commissioner has appealed for staff to come forward.The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, told the house the Jenkins review offered the chance to achieve genuine change in the culture of the building, and that was an opportunity that should not be wasted. He said the amendments would ensure the review was effective.“I’m very pleased this legislation will be supported by government members, by opposition members and crossbench members – that is a good thing,” Albanese said.“This review is an important opportunity to bring about the cultural change that is needed, to get the resources and protections needed, to transform the parliament into a safe workplace, and this should be a safe workplace.”







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