Parliament harassment inquiry too expensive: Govt

A state MP has accused the Marshall Government of turning a blind eye to “extraordinarily unacceptable” and “systemic” workplace harassment in Parliament, after Treasurer Rob Lucas questioned the $150,000 cost of an overdue inquiry into the issue.

Sep 25, 2020, updated Sep 25, 2020
Greens MLC Tammy Franks failed to win the support of the Government for her motion to investigate workplace harassment in Parliament. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Greens MLC Tammy Franks failed to win the support of the Government for her motion to investigate workplace harassment in Parliament. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The Marshall Government this week opposed a motion lodged by Greens MLC Tammy Franks that called on both houses of parliament to urgently grant the state’s Equal Opportunity Commissioner permission to investigate workplace harassment, victimisation and inappropriate behaviour among MPs and staffers.

The inquiry was prompted by allegations that ex-Liberal MP Sam Duluk inappropriately touched SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros at a Parliament Christmas party last year.

The Upper House, with the support of the Opposition and crossbenchers, in February invited Commissioner Niki Vincent to launch the investigation, with a view that she would report back with recommendations on August 31.

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

Franks’ motion, which called for the inquiry to finish no later than the first sitting week of 2021, passed the Upper House with the support of the Opposition.

The Government did not support the motion, with Treasurer and Legislative Council leader Rob Lucas claiming it “cannot go anywhere unless there is, in terms of the Commissioner’s request, a similar or equivalent motion passed by the House of Assembly”.

“In the absence of that, it is clear that the commissioner is not prepared to proceed with an investigation into the parliament,” he said.

“I think that is the threshold question.”

Lucas added that the “kicker at the end” was that Vincent’s inquiry was estimated to cost $152,873.

“That would obviously be an issue for, I assume, both presiding members in relation to their budgets as to whether they were prepared to jointly allocate $152,873, excluding GST, for such an investigation,” he said.

“For those reasons, the government, for the reasons we outlined back in February, does not support this proposed investigation.”

Franks retorted that it was “rich” for Lucas to suggest that a concurrent motion in the House of Assembly was needed to allow her’s to pass, describing a motion as “the simplest, easiest possible achievement this government could undertake”.

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“What the Treasurer has actually said today is that this government chooses not to act, chooses not to take the simplest measures to ensure that we have a workplace free from sexual harassment, archaic behaviours and a culture that benefits those who perpetuate such behaviours by looking away and feigning incapacity to act,” she told parliament.

“We have not had just years but decades of extraordinary unacceptable behaviours that have driven people out of their workplaces, that have driven people to quit their jobs, that have left people unable to take recourse that they would take in any other workplace in this nation.

“What we are getting is a complete abrogation of their duties to ensure that this parliament of our state has the highest standards of our state in terms of a workplace instead of possibly one of the lowest and most retrograde workplace environments in this nation.

“This is a systemic problem.”

Leader of the Opposition in the Upper House Kyam Maher, whose party originally called for the investigation to take place, said MPs “should seek to set an example for the wider community”.

“It is often said that justice delayed is justice denied, and it is time this matter was resolved,” he said.

“Parliament must be a place of equal opportunity and safety and free from harassment.”

Legislative Council president John Dawkins said yesterday that he had written to House of Assembly Speaker Josh Teague and provided him with a copy of Vincent’s letter and proposal.

He said he was “looking forward” to discussing the matter further.

InDaily contacted Vincent for comment.

Today is Vincent’s last day as SA’s Equal Opportunity Commissioner before she takes up a comparable role in Victoria.

Duluk is due to face the Adelaide Magistrates Court next month on a basic assault charge.

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