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Justice Miscellaneous (Independent Review Amendments) Bill 2022

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 3 March 2022

Tags: Legislation, Right to Information

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - On behalf of the Greens, we support this bill. Ms O'Connor, the Leader of the Greens, is a member of the committee overseeing the work to make sure that we remove any instances of workplace bullying and harassment in the work of members and ministerial staff. It is incredibly important that the Tasmanian Government and more widely, among Tasmanian government employees. It is very important that we set the standards which are now being driven by a national conversation much bigger than the contributions of people in this state. We have all been party to the national discussion about the horrendous and toxic workplace culture which has played out on the front pages of newspapers and in our social media feed over the last couple of years.

I commend and pay my greatest respects to the bravery of women who have endured not only terrible instances of harassment and sometimes rape and other forms of extreme workplace bullying, but who have found their voice and been able to share those experiences. Brittany Higgins is one of them. Grace Tame has also been part of that conversation. There are many other women who have stood together in hundreds of thousands around the country to say, 'Enough is enough'. Women will not be silenced any longer on matters of sexual violence, abuse and harassment. It is not something that can go back in the box. Women everywhere are going to make sure that it does not go back in the box. People in workplaces should not be shut down. They should not be silenced. They should not have every effort made to ignore or hide their complaints of harassment and bullying in the workplace.

In the context of parliamentary activities, often historically it has been shut down as politically inconvenient truths. It has been more important for members and sometimes parties to hide information perceived to be damaging to a political body without paying any care or respect to the lived experience of harassment and bullying on the very person who is making the complaint.

These are often very difficult situations. Allegations of workplace harassment and bullying have to be listened to and addressed, heard and responded to by an independent, sensitive, impartial person who is able to give both the person who has made an allegation and the person or people against whom the allegation is being made space to be heard, space where they will not be shut down or intimidated and where, importantly, they have confidence that the material they present that they want to remain confidential will remain confidential.

This bill seeks to tie up a loophole which has meant that, until this bill passes, people who have made written contributions to the workplace review being undertaken by the Equal Opportunity Commissioner, Sarah Bolt, are potentially subject to applications under the Right to Information Act 2009. That is untenable and unfortunate. 'Unfortunate' is to put it kindly. It is a problem that this was not rectified earlier because, as Ms Haddad pointed out, people have already made contributions to the survey in good faith. I am sure people would have been horrified to understand that those contributions could have been accessed by a third party through right to information. Clearly this is being rectified.

Ms O'Connor wrote to the Premier on 13 December about this matter. She wrote that the review is being conducted in good faith but it is not being protected. Not only does this bill protect any right to applications that are made for the future; it also clarifies that any application for a right to information made before the commencement date of this bill, I presume, specifically in relation to this workplace investigation in Tasmania, be also invalid.

The last point I want to make is about the condition of not allowing material to be made available through the Right to Information Act from the survey being done, that it must be held by the state archivist for a period of 75 years. I understand that this is the standard length of time in the State Archives Act. Could the Attorney-General put on the record whether there was any discussion about making a different time for the purposes of this particular bill that we have before us? Seventy-five years is a good length of time. It is a very long length of time. Is it to account for a person and their children? It is much longer than a person's life. Plausibly it is hard to imagine -

Ms Archer - The short answer is it is consistent with the other provisions in the act and that has already been considered a sufficient time. But if there is anything further, I will -

Dr WOODRUFF - It certainly is sufficient. We could go on, 100, 150. I understand it would be -

Ms Archer - I think it is to ensure that it covers your own lifetime.

Dr WOODRUFF - and the family of children, possibly. If there is anything you have to say around that. Other than that, the Greens are very strong supporters of the work that the commissioner is doing on this review. We will continue to participate and support other people to participate so that we can all work together in a workplace where we are confident that the culture we are setting is not a toxic one; that it is a respectful one where people are not subject to having to work with harassment, bullying, innuendos or anything other than a professional, respectful workplace. We look forward to the results of the review when it is completed.