Is the announced spending of $15m on anti-bullying and harassment reforms into the NSW Parliamentary culture (Guardian 24.7.23) a good spend of public money? Based on the Broderick recommendations and the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s assessment that systemic bullying and widespread harassment existed in parliaments; we can say that this behaviour needs to stop. But will spending this money stop it? Based on the $15m announced for NSW, that’s an approximate cost of $100 m to the taxpayers for reform of all political jurisdictions. But it must be asked if this will represent value for money to the people? Can there be any confidence that after spending this money, that bullying and harassment and sexual harassment, assault and discrimination in political workplaces stop? Sadly, we rarely see any accountability for poor behaviour from elected. Instead, we see petulant displays of denial and obfuscation through the media whenever challenges are made. And if any elected member does not appear to have a way out, they resign with a pension and often a very lucrative new career, generally organised before they leave the building.
What could make this exercise effective and a good spend of taxpayer’s money? It would be the same for any other organisation looking at addressing its culture properly.
· The establishment of good strong policies outlining very clearly what behaviour is acceptable and what is not.
· An open and transparent means of having unbiased external professionals called in to investigate and make recommendations when allegations are raised.
· While observing the principles of natural justice, the alleged perpetrators should stand aside to allow the process to run its course without fear or favour.
· A very clear process of how recommendations of findings from an investigation are managed and implemented from disciplinary action through to dismissal, depending on the seriousness of the matter.
· An education program for staff about behaviours which are acceptable and not acceptable to an organisation is required, but this does not need to be exhaustive. The legislation spells out what is seeks to prevent, and staff who work in these environments must have a duty to demonstrate a level of understanding before they commence. This could be considered part of the positive duty that now exists for employers to proactively screen against these behaviours.
It would be surprising if these actions cost $15m per state but if the outcomes were that our parliaments became the benchmark for behaviour in the workplace across Australia, that we saw a decrease in incidents of poor behaviour within those organisations and that we saw people who breached the benchmarks taking responsibility, then people may say that the process represented value for money and was worth doing.