Transcripts → 2023


Radio interview - ABC RN Breakfast

Minister for Finance
Minister for the Public Service
Minister for Women


Date: Thursday, 10 August 2023

Legislative change in response to Set the Standard report; Parliamentary Workplace Support Service; National Cabinet; Housing.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Australia's Parliament has faced something of a cultural reckoning over the past two years. Issues of bullying, sexual harassment, assault, have been widely reported and forced the previous Government and now this Government into action. 
Now today, the Albanese Government will introduce the first set of legislation recommended by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, in her landmark report Set the Standard. It will be today introduced into the House of Representatives.

Katy Gallagher is the Minister for Finance and Women and she joins us now. Welcome back to RN Breakfast.


KARVELAS: So today you're tabling this legislation, what's in it?

GALLAGHER: So, this is the legislation that will create the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service, which as an independent statutory authority. It was one of the recommendations of the Set the Standard report. So essentially, to create an independent HR function for the Parliament, so that staff felt able to, or more able to use those services in a safe and confidential way that wasn't, you know, sort of formally part of government architecture. In the past, those services have been offered through the Department of Finance. We've had an interim PWSS in place for over a year now. But this will create the permanent independent statutory body.

KARVELAS: So, when Independent Senator for instance, Lydia Thorpe, raised allegations against another Senator earlier this year, at the time it was said that the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service would have been able to deal with it. And if it had been up and running in its full sense. Can you explain how the PWSS, that's the acronym we'll get used to it, would deal with that if it happened now? How would it work? Give me some examples?

GALLAGHER: Yes. Okay. So, I mean the functions that the PWSS currently has, but it's created, really under, it's not created as an independent body. It doesn't have its own legislation yet, but it's currently offering you know, complaint resolution and some support services to staff. It's been doing that for some time, but under the new model, it will have I guess, it'll be created as an independent authority. It will have more ability and including additional resourcing which we put in the Budget, last Budget to provide those services. However, I should say that the next piece of work that we've got to do is what's going to be called the IPSC, which is the Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission, which is going to be the permanent and ongoing body that will look at investigations and sanctions about complaints that come to it, the PWSS doesn't have that role yet, it will do investigations and complaints handling for the interim and then once the IPSC is in place that will be the body that does you know, that function with the ability to enforce sanctions.

KARVELAS:  How quickly will the independent version that you're tabling today be up and running in its full capacity?

GALLAGHER:  So, we're hoping because we've done a lot of work, and I should acknowledge that this has been really developed across the Parliament, through the Parliamentary Leadership Taskforce, which has representatives of the Opposition, the Greens and independents on it. And it's been a very collaborative process, so it's no surprises what's the arrangements that we're tabling today, and everyone's strongly behind the Set the Standard recommendation so my hope is that we can introduce in the House today, and that it will move fairly quickly through the Parliament. So fairly quickly as obviously at the determination of the Parliament but we are hoping to have it up and running by the first of October. So that gives you the timeframe. We're hoping we would need to pass it in the next sittings to get that done.

KARVELAS: And one of the key issues highlighted in Kate Jenkins' report with alcohol for instance, last month the Parliamentary Leadership Taskforce which you are on met again and decided on some principles around alcohol. What are they?

GALLAGHER:  I mean, essentially, it's about the safe use of alcohol in the building and that Members and Senators have to be aware of that and be aware of it in their own offices and things like that. So, I just don't have it in front of me, but it's a principle based policy. And I think part of what we've been trying to do is raise awareness of the responsibilities that leaders have across the Parliament. Alcohol was raised as one of the issues in Set the Standard as being one of the risks, one of the significant risk factors for unacceptable behaviour and conduct in the building and I certainly in my time in the Parliament, I have noticed a significant change in relation to you know, well in relation to the awareness of alcohol, and the management of alcohol in the building, but it's one of I think 28 recommendations. We update those recommendations through that tracker, but we've made progress on a vast number of them. Patricia, we're deadly serious about making sure that the workplace is a much better experience for everybody who works in there.

KARVELAS:  So, then there's another tranche of legislation that you'll need to have ready, which deals with as you say, the Code of Conduct and enforceable permission to do that work. When do you hope to have that ready?

GALLAGHER:  So, we'll provide a principles paper to the Parliamentary Leadership Taskforce in the next week or so. So, we have been doing some early work on that cost of bureaucracy so I'm hoping we can move relatively quickly on that as well. I think this one will be a more difficult one to land in legislation, just because it does for the first-time deal with things like sanctions of parliamentarians, but we have adopted the Codes of Conduct that Sharon Claydon's Committee identified or designed at the end of last year. So, we've got those in place as a motion before both Chambers that these Codes of Conduct apply, but this body once established and we will get moving on it very quickly, will be the enforcement arm of those Codes of Conduct. So, they are an important part of the architecture that we're going to put in place.

KARVELAS: Minister, I want to change the topic and talk about National Cabinet. The Prime Minister says housing will be top of the agenda. What sort of rental rights are being considered?

GALLAGHER: Well, that will be determined at National Cabinet. There's a huge piece of work that's been going on since the last meeting across all jurisdictions to look at ways to enhance renters’ rights. I think it's fair to say and that work will be front and centre along with other issues like housing supply at the meeting next week.

KARVELAS:  Rental caps are actually in place in your territory, the ACT, and the Chief Minister Andrew Barr says they work alongside big investments in new housing, but you can't do it on its own. It has to be with a suite of measures. If the government is pouring money into new dwellings, why not also encourage the other states to implement similar caps or having you know, some sort of demand on the funding that you provide?

GALLAGHER:  Well, I think that's part of the discussions, not specifically on that issue you raised but the issue of renters’ rights is certainly part of the discussions we've been having with States and Territories as we do policies like the social housing accelerator, which was to provide $2 billion to the States and Territories to support the supply side of their work. But you know, the Prime Minister has been very clear that he wants to engage with States and Territories and Councils on the responsibilities they have around housing supply and ensuring that we're all moving in the same direction. And that's why the works being front and centre of National Cabinet at the last meeting, and the one coming up. I mean, we all acknowledge that pressure in the housing market is there particularly at the social and affordable end and that part of the solution is generating and investing in that supply. But the other side is dealing with some of the barriers that are holding back you know, the supply, that supply being able to be constructed. So, it's a genuine across government issue in this Federation, one arm of government can't solve that, we can put all the money on the table tomorrow, and we've still got issues that we need to solve at the State and Territory and Local Government level. And that's what the work the Prime Minister is leading.

KARVELAS:  Katy Gallagher it's been a pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you.

GALLAGHER: Thanks, Patricia.

KARVELAS: That's the Minister for Finance and Women, Katy Gallagher. You're listening to RN Breakfast.