Critics are slamming the federal government's plans to introduce optional workplace training for politicians and staffers in light of serious allegations made about workplace culture earlier this year.
The main public sector union and political academics from around the country questioned the intent behind one of the government's first major actions in response to allegations made following rape allegations made by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins in February.
The plans, revealed in tender documents reported by The Canberra Times on Wednesday, show the Finance Department will offer political staffers an optional two-hour face-to-face workshop using practical workplace scenarios.
Chiefs of staff will be given a one-hour session, in which politicians may "optionally attend".
Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Melissa Donnelly told an academic forum in Canberra on Friday morning the government's response was just not good enough.
"As an outcome of the Foster review, the government has tendered for optional one-hour training for sexual harassment. Optional for politicians, that is," Ms Donnelly told the audience.
"That gives our members absolutely no confidence that this government is serious about changing workplace culture and instituting practices that are really mainstream in most of the corporate world, and most of the APS world."
She added the union had attempted on a number of occasions to have sexual harassment in the workplace embedded in employee agreements by the government but had found a reluctance to take the issue seriously.
"There has been, over a long time, a really half-hearted approach to workplace health and safety in political offices," Ms Donnelly said.
"It has at times been seen as a bit of a joke that ... it's not something that politicians and others need to actually worry themselves about."
National Archives of Australia cabinet historian and former political staffer Dr Chris Wallace added a key issue with the culture was consequences.
The Finance Department can make findings after harassment disclosures are made but are not able to enforce any consequences, leaving individual offices to deal with the alleged perpetrators how they see fit.
"I think everyone in those situations wants the same thing," Dr Wallace told the forum.
"They want there to be accountability, they want there to be consequences for miscreants."
The union reached an agreement last month with the Finance Department offering staffers a minor pay bump and access to additional leave but no specific protections or provisions regarding workplace harassment.
It came after nearly two years of tense discussions between the parties, including a spat in May after a proposal to redraft a health and safety clause that would address the workplace's asymmetrical power structures was knocked back.
The union's proposal would have forced the government 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".
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said in May the government had sought to revise the proposed workplace deal's work health and safety clause to ensure appropriate support services for staff.