The federal government has doubled down on its refusal to accept union-proposed measures aiming to make parliamentary workplaces safer, despite allegations that a staffer was raped in a ministerial office.
Political staffers are preparing to participate in another vote on a new workplace deal, but the government has again rejected a proposal to include better protections against sexual harassment and bullying.
It follows an earlier government decision to flatly refuse the measure - without negotiation - after the Community and Public Sector Union first tabled it in late 2019.
According to the proposal, the government would have to recognise "unique risks and hazards exist in the employment of Member of Parliament Staff including but not limited to the asymmetrical power structures of the workplace and obstacles that exist in reporting incidents".
The clause would work to solve the asymmetrical power structures that can be used as barriers to prevent reporting incidents.
The union resubmitted the proposed clause to the Finance Department in November, following an episode of Four Corners that detailed alleged relationships between ministers and staffers.
Pressure on the government to improve safety in parliamentary workplaces intensified after political staffer Brittany Higgins earlier this year raised allegations she was raped in then-defence minister Linda Reynolds' office.
But Finance Minister Simon Birmingham and the department have again knocked back the proposal on Wednesday, heightening frustration for staff still without a comprehensive sexual violence mitigation plan.
The union's national secretary Melissa Donnelly said the government had been publicly committing to addressing issues within Parliament but wasn't making practical steps behind closed doors.
"It is unacceptable that CPSU members have waited over 18 months for the department and government to take their safety seriously," Ms Donnelly said.
"The government missed a FWC deadline to provide its response to our suggested gendered violence and sexual harassment clause in the MOPs [Members of Parliament (Staff)] Enterprise Agreement, and when they did finally respond, their proposed clause didn't even mention harassment, sexual violence or bullying once.
"Everybody has the right to be safe at work. The Morrison government has talked about women's safety a lot but when it comes to taking practical steps to improve their own staff safety, they refuse."
- Government rejected sexual harassment, bullying clause proposed for staffer employment agreement
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- Parliament House staff call for change, 'safe working environment'
- Parliament House staff ordered to stay silent to media following Higgins allegations
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said the government had sought to revise the proposed workplace deal's work health and safety clause to ensure appropriate support services for staff.
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet deputy secretary Stephanie Foster was also reviewing interim additional supports for staff who have been part of a serious incident in the workplace, Senator Birmingham said.
"This has included the establishment of a dedicated 24/7 staff support line and ongoing work around an improved complaints handling process for workplace allegations," he said.
"We also expect the independent review being conducted by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins will consider recommending further measures to ensure a safer and more respectful parliamentary workplace."
The government's refusal to accept the union proposal follows a long-running dispute between CPSU members and the Finance Department over workplace culture.
In March, union members within Parliament House delivered an open letter, calling on the government to take action against bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault within the workplace.
It followed a number of disturbing incidents in recent months, including Ms Higgins' allegations that she had been raped in Parliament House, and reports of political staffers taking and sharing explicit images, including one who performed a sex act on a female MP's desk.
"The work we do for our democracy is incredibly important, but our workplaces have significant power imbalances, which at times allows bullying, sexual harassment, and sexual assault to fester and go unpunished," the letter from union members said.
Earlier this week, The Canberra Times reported that a new media gag order had been introduced days before a security guard featured on a Four Corners program, detailing her involvement in the Higgins case.
The new policy warned staff speaking to media without permission could found in breach of the code of conduct as well as the Criminal Code Act, which carries a prison term of up to two years.
Ms Donnelly said it was time for the government to stand up and implement practical safety measures for its staff.
"CPSU members working in Parliament House have been at the epicentre of a national debate about women's safety, where instances of sexual harassment and sexual assault have too often gone unreported and unpunished," Ms Donnelly said.
"The government has fallen short yet again when it comes to offering practical safety measures for its staff."
- with Doug Dingwall
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