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Workplace Culture

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 1 July 2021

Tags: Women

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens - Motion) - Mr Speaker, I move -

That the House take note of the following matter: workplace culture.

We thought it was important today that parliament be given an opportunity to discuss workplace culture. I note that at lunchtime today there will be a meeting of the Premier, the Acting Leader of the Opposition, me and, I believe, the Independent member for Nelson that will look at policies and procedures of Parliament House. The Attorney-General has just reminded me that of course she will also be attending that meeting.

Mr Speaker, this is a very topical subject we are dealing with today. It has a history going back decades and indeed centuries, but in Australian political terms we have seen a very significant shift in the debate around workplace culture, gender inequality, casual sexism, sexual harassment, and that has been a very cleansing shift. We have not yet seen enough evidence of substantive change as women, but the conversation has shifted.

It has shifted because of the courage of people like Brittney Higgins who came forward last year after being raped in Parliament House. It has shifted because of the mighty Grace Tame who, as Australian of the Year, has been able to give voice to the victims and survivors of sexual assault and abuse.

Of course we have the situation that is happening here in Tasmanian politics right now where a serious allegation has been made about the Leader of the Opposition, who has had the good sense and the grace to step down during the investigation.

I guess from the point of view of women, our frustration is that for too long there have not been consequences for past behaviours and I think, Mr Speaker, that the gig is up. Fellas, it is over. If in your past you have not conducted yourself in a way that is respectful of women or understands the nature of consent and you are a public figure, chances are you will be in the spotlight because of the courage of people like Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame and other women who have now come forward to tell their stories of either being discriminated against, harassed, assaulted or raped.

In Australia right now there is a very high level of expectation amongst women and girls that there will be some change. We have had a gutful, and people of a certain vintage, for example my age, more than half a century old, have plenty of understanding and experience of gender imbalance in the workplace and how that can contaminate workplace culture.

I listened to the new member for Bass' inaugural speech yesterday and I thought it was terrific in so many ways, but I actually took offence at something she said where she made an observation after only being here for a week that parliament is 'just fun and games'. No, it is not.

This is a place where we deliver law, policy and where there is a contest of ideas. Of course it gets hot in here every now and again, because all of us feel very passionately about the values we hold and what we want to bring to this role. I just say to Ms Finlay, it is not that and I ask you pay a little bit more attention to the nature of the debates and why people take the positions they do.

Mr Winter - I think you should review the Hansard on that. You might be mistaken.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am very happy to review the Hansard on that, Mr Winter, but it was something that really stuck with me because that is not us.

I also acknowledge the fact that we now have a measure of gender balance in this parliament and upstairs and I believe that has improved the quality of behaviour in here and the debate, to some extent.

To the specific issue, which is topical right now, I acknowledge that in relation to the allegation, the person who came forward with the allegation about Mr O'Byrne spoke to two women at the time and one of them was my colleague, the Independent member for Clark, Ms Johnston, and the other was my colleague, the Labor member for Clark, Ms Haddad.

We have had a statement from Ms Johnston about her recollection of those events. I think Ms Haddad owes the House an explanation, or at least should make a statement about how she was approached and what steps she might have taken in order to provide support to the person who came forward.

I hope there is a salient lesson here for men in public life that their past will catch up with them. Times have changed. We are not putting up with it anymore and our daughters certainly will not put up with it.

There has been for too long a culture of overlooking and walking by discrimination, harassment and the like, and those days are over. I hope what comes out of this, for all of the pain it causes, is a message to women and girls that we hear you, we believe you, we support you and we admire the courage of people who speak up, and a message to men in public life to behave themselves and respect women.

It is not much to ask. All we want is to be treated equally and with respect. That is what we want for our daughters and our granddaughters and all the women in our lives we care about.