State Parliament harassment report due, but inquiry hasn’t started

A report into workplace harassment within State Parliament – due to have been delivered yesterday – has not even started despite being commissioned by Parliament itself six months ago.

Sep 01, 2020, updated Sep 01, 2020
Photo: InDaily

Photo: InDaily

Equal Opportunity Commissioner Niki Vincent was invited by the Legislative Council in February to provide recommendations to stamp out harassment, victimisation and inappropriate behaviour among MPs and staffers.

According to a “SA Parliament Cultural Review Project Overview” timeline tabled in parliament, consent from both houses of parliament to launch the investigation was scheduled to be granted in early April, with a final report due on August 31.

But Vincent is yet to start investigating, as she is still waiting for both houses to give her permission.

Vincent told InDaily her investigation “doesn’t seem like such a priority anymore”, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the repercussions of the country members allowance scandal.

The inquiry was prompted by a Labor motion in the upper house to invite Vincent to investigate the behaviour of ex-Liberal MP Sam Duluk, who is due to face the Adelaide Magistrates Court next month on a basic assault charge. The charge came after allegations came to light about his behaviour towards SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros at a Parliament House Christmas party last year.

InDaily reported in July that Vincent had written to former upper house president Terry Stephens in March declining an initial invitation to investigate Duluk’s alleged actions, stating she was not authorised under equal opportunity laws to examine the behaviour of individual MPs.

But she said would conduct a broader inquiry of parliament’s handling of workplace harassment and to provide recommendations for reform, provided she received the support of both houses of parliament.

Since then, Stephens was forced to step down from the president role after becoming embroiled in the country members allowance scandal, while speaker Vincent Tarzia also vacated his position after he was  elevated to a cabinet role as the new Minister for Police, Emergency Services and Correctional Services.

Both presiding members are scheduled to be replaced when parliament returns next week.

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Vincent told InDaily yesterday that she did not hear back from either Stephens or Tarzia before parliament went on winter break, despite hearing allegations of inappropriate behaviour from “many people” connected to state parliament.

“I guess they have to wait until they get the new speaker and the new president in place because the original correspondence back after I put in the proposal was that the president of the Leg Co was going to speak to the speaker of the House of Reps, but then I didn’t hear anything more,” she said.

“Now both of them are not in those roles any more, so I guess once Parliament resumes they’ll install new people and then hopefully I can give them a call and talk to them about what they want to do about it.

“At the moment there’s no one for me to call.”

Vincent said provided she “condense” the scope of the inquiry and dedicate more resources, her office could complete the report before the end of the year.

She said she had flagged the delay with federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, who previously expressed support for the state inquiry.

“At the time there was a lot of impetus for it (the investigation),” she said.

“It doesn’t seem to have engendered a lot of enthusiasm since then.”

Vincent previously said that there was a culture of harassment “being perpetrated on young women and LGBTIQ people in the parliamentary workplace”.

She said people were afraid to report harassment “because they’re worried about their jobs and they’re worried about victimisation”.

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