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Women – Motion for Respect Report

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 7 June 2023

Tags: Women, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. Minister, the Motion for Respect report outlines some really awful cultural issues across ministerial and parliamentary services in this place. There were several issues outlined that make this workplace potentially unsafe for women. Multiple examples were raised in the report of sexual harassment, particularly when alcohol is involved. There are multiple claims of men following women back to their accommodation while they are away for work.

As Minister for Women, what steps have you taken in regard to this and have you developed any educational material or protocols for the behaviour of ministerial and women staff when travelling? Have you provided some guidance to employees on how they can lodge complaints about sexual harassment? What have you done to give staff in the offices, the agencies, confidence that complaints will be taken seriously and provide assurances there will not be repercussions for speaking up?

Ms PALMER - Thank you, Ms O'Connor. I agree with you. The comments and what came out of that report were quite disturbing. It was hard to listen to and difficult to absorb that was happening in this place. I feel very grateful that, personally, I have not had that experience in the three years that I have been here. My heart certainly breaks and goes out to those who have had that experience. It is pretty amazing that they had the courage to stand up and to be part of that, so I commend them for that.

You would be aware that we now have in place a project which is about to start to implement the recommendations of that report. I look forward to seeing that work developed. It is a very important body of work. That project is coordinated with a manager now in place and about to start that work.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, minister. I am a member of the Joint Standing Committee and I cannot talk about its deliberations, I understand that. I was curious to know if there is something you could do as Minister for Women to help change the culture but I understand it is deep and it is cultural.

The Motion for Respect report also noted an unhealthy culture where family responsibilities are frowned upon and not always accommodated. Probably a little bit better here than it was when the women on whose shoulders we stand were here like Christine Milne, or Sue Napier or or Judy Jackson as mighty women, but it is still not -

Ms O'BYRNE - I did not get a pair when I was pregnant.

Ms O'CONNOR - You did not get a pair?

Ms O'BYRNE - When I gave birth to my children I did not even get a pair.

Ms O'CONNOR - So it has changed but it is still problematic, I am very sorry about that Ms O'Byrne, that is terrible. So, just back to the question it was also reported that there is a prevailing sexist attitude towards the role of women and there is an under representation of women in senior leadership roles. Is there something that you have done or can do as Minister for Women to challenge and change this culture, particularly within ministerial offices?

Ms PALMER - All of these matters are going to need to be looked at by the project manager and I certainly hope that I will have the opportunity as the Minister for Women to have some level of involvement there. I am not sure where the line is drawn between a minister being able to work or communicate in that space but I certainly hope that will be something I can do. I think we are seeing change. Ms O'Byrne that is horrendous that you make that comment. Unfortunately issues like that are not just in parliament and we must fight for women across every workspace. When I gave birth to my children I had to take holiday leave in order to give birth, which is why I went in to labour with my daughter on the news set.

Ms O'BYRNE - I was at work on the same day I went into labour.

Ms PALMER - So, we need to see change there and we are seeing change in that family space but I do acknowledge it has taken a long time and most of us around this table would have been impacted at some time. Interestingly my colleague was allowed to take sick leave because she had a caesarean. What I will say is with regard to ministerial offices, we now have four female chiefs of staff which is fantastic, one of them being mine. Across the state service we have reached gender equality, we have a female head of our state service who is very strong in this space and the number of female SES officers has increased by 10 since March 2022 and 54 since March 2014. We now see the percentage of women in SES offices 51.48 per cent which is really fantastic.

We just have to keep supporting these women in these positions, ensuring that we do have those voices in this space. I think it is looking at that age old sentiment of you can't be what you can't see. and now women across ministerial offices, women across the state service are seeing these positions that are being held by women, and great women, and that's inclusive of members of parliament.

I know in the upper House as well we had that, and in the lower House, that strong representative balance of women which is absolutely fantastic. We have Jenny Gale in DPAC, we have Kathrine Morgan-Wicks in Health, we have Ginna Webster in Justice, we have Donna Adams in Police. These are big positions and they are filled by women who are doing a fantastic job. I think part of that is going to play a big role in seeing cultural change in this place but also in other workplaces as well.