Women from all sides of politics have raised concerns about the privacy of an independent inquiry into parliament’s toxic workplace culture.
Women from all sides of politics have raised concerns about the privacy of an independent inquiry into parliament’s toxic workplace culture.

Female staffers’ ‘urgent’ plea to PM and Labor leader

Liberal and Labor female staffers have united to warn political leaders no one will come forward to an independent review of workplace culture in Parliament House without stronger privacy protections.

An open letter signed by 30 women - including former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins and former adviser to multiple Labor leaders, Fiona Sugden - calls on Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor leader Anthony Albanese to ensure an independent review into parliament is confidential.

 

The women have also been backed by the wives of two former prime ministers, Lucy Turnbull and Thérèse Rein, as well as author and political commentator Jamila Rizvi.

"We are concerned that even if names are redacted, details of submissions could still lead to

the identification of victims - or the alleged perpetrators," the letter said.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has been tasked with leading the review, and political leaders have publicly encouraged female staffers to disclose details of sexual harassment, assault or bullying allegations.

Therese Rein has also signed the letter backing privacy for victims. Picture: Tim Marsden
Therese Rein has also signed the letter backing privacy for victims. Picture: Tim Marsden

But a group of past and current staff have raised concerns about previous reviews being subject to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, and the Archives Act, which could both result in the allegations being made public in the future.

Lucy Turnbull has co-signed the open letter. Photographer: Adam Yip
Lucy Turnbull has co-signed the open letter. Photographer: Adam Yip

"We are a bipartisan group of current and former federal staff members and supporters concerned about privacy of participants in the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces," the letter obtained by The Daily Telegraph said.

Letter co-signer Fiona Sugden formerly advised Anthony Albanese.
Letter co-signer Fiona Sugden formerly advised Anthony Albanese.

In the letter, the women point to both Mr Albanese and Mr Morrison's public comments about how it important it was that "as many people as possible participate" in the review.

"To do this, current and former staff must have confidence in the Sex Discrimmination Commissioner's ability to ensure privacy for participants in the immediate future and in the long-term," the letter said.

"There is currently no guarantee that information submitted will remain private as it would if the inquiry were conducted under parliamentary privilege."

It is understood both parties intend to protect the review from FOIs, however it has not been established how this will occur.

The women point to a previous examples where a review of sexual assault and harassment into Australian universities in 2017 was ultimately the subject of a successful FOI request, meaning allegations were made public.

"The Sex Discrimination Commissioner herself has said the Review should be victim centred and trauma informed," the letter said.

"Any approach made by the Commissioner to those making submissions regarding possible publication of their experiences is neither of those things and could exacerbate trauma."

 

They have also raised concerns about the Archives Act, which means in 20 years the National Archives of Australia could choose to make the review public.

"(This) may significantly damage a victim's career at the time and cause retraumatisation," the letter said.

"Both parties have expressed their interest in recruiting and retaining more women in politics. 20 years on, many participants in the Review would be benefiting from the implementation of its recommendations."

Ms Jenkins was called in after Ms Higgins went public with allegations she was raped by a colleague on a couch in the office of Defence Minister Linda Reynolds in 2019.

On Monday thousands of women around the country marched to call for an end to violence against women.

Mr Albanese attended the rally in Canberra, but Mr Morrison instead invited a small contingent of organisers to meet privately, though this was rejected.

*For 24-hour sexual violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636. 

Originally published as Female staffers' 'urgent' plea to PM and Labor leader

Jamila Rizvi has backed the female staffers. Picture: AAP Image/Natasha Morello
Jamila Rizvi has backed the female staffers. Picture: AAP Image/Natasha Morello

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