2CC STEPHEN CENATIEMPO BREAKFAST SHOW
WEDNESDAY, 17 MARCH 2021
SUBJECTS: The right for all women to feel safe and respected in the workplace; the need for an independent complaints process removed from the political parties; the Morrison Government’s inaction on the Respect@Work recommendations; the need for men to call out bad behaviour in the workplace.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: One man that is actually doing the right thing rather than trying to score points off this is Labor Member for Fenner Andrew Leigh, who hasn't been on the program for a while. Andrew, good to have you back.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: G’day, Stephen. Great to be with you, although happy to chat with you anytime, mate. Pick up the phone anytime you want to talk.
CENATIEMPO: And you're welcome here anytime you've got something to say. And look, I've been very, very critical of people trying to score cheap political points off what are some disgraceful allegations. You've actually come out and encouraged women within your own party to come forward and report any instances of harassment or abuse. And it turns out from a Facebook page that has seen the light of day recently that there is quite a number of them.
LEIGH: These allegations were pretty horrific to me, Steve, and I certainly don't want to be in a Labor Party that has in it people who bully their staff. We're a party that believes in workers’ rights, and that's got to go beyond policies that advance workers’ rights - it's also got to be reflected in how we treat our own staff. We need to be a model employer. In that sense, anyone that's doing the wrong thing by their staff needs to be called out, needs to have their behaviour pulled into line.
CENATIEMPO: Which does point to, and a lot of people have been talking about the culture of Parliament House and I've got my own criticisms of how Parliament House operates for a number of reasons. And I think you guys are at your least productive when you're in Parliament House. You're better off out in your electorates, talking to your constituents. But effectively, we're talking about more than 200 small businesses operating in the one building, aren't we? And that's part of the problem, I think.
LEIGH: I’m so glad you made that point. Yeah, I was thinking about that just this morning, that the way in which we've been managing this really is that we've treated every MP’s office like a little small business. What will hopefully come out of the new Jenkins inquiry is the idea that we can't continue to do that any longer, that if staff have complaints those complaints shouldn't be dealt with through some politicised process - either internally within the office or within the political party - but the staff should have an independent compliance process. That's what the British Government moved to last year. So they have an independent complaints process for any staff who want to lodge a complaint against their Member of Parliament. And that's been overseen not even by former MPs, but by people who are experts in sexual harassment. It takes the politics out of it and ensures that people aren’t choosing between doing the right thing and advancing their careers.
CENATIEMPO: Of course, the real difficulty behind this is that appointments in MPs offices are always going to be inherently political, because that's the nature of the beast. But I think by having these processes in place - but I think the other issue that I have a real problem with is the leadership of both parties are not playing this the right way. It's people like yourself and other backbenchers, Nicolle Flint and even Jenny Macklin the former deputy leader, who are coming out making all the right noises and saying all the right things, but Albo and Scott Morrison aren’t.
LEIGH: Well, Anthony Albanese has been calling for the government to look at Kate Jenkins’ report on sexual harassment, which was delivered over a year ago now and contains a range of excellent recommendations. Those recommendations apply to Parliament as much as anyone else. I was looking over the Jenkins inquiry report yesterday, and she talks about sexual harassment being worst in workplaces where men are over represented in senior leadership roles, where there’s a masculine workplace culture, a high level of contact with third parties and there's a hierarchical structure. Well, that sounds an awful lot like politics to me. So perhaps it isn't surprising that we're dealing with these sexual harassment problems. We need to do so maturely. We need to make sure that parliament is a model employer, that we're setting an example for the community. Sexual harassment doesn't just hold women back - it holds back the whole economy. We’re a much less productive nation when we have workplaces where there's sexual harassment taking place and women aren't taking up those most senior productive roles for which they’re suited.
CENATIEMPO: There's no doubt about that. But I think the other thing too is, and this is a secondary consideration, but when you focus on these things that shouldn't be problems it takes the focus away from things, other things that need to be fixed I guess at a more frontline level, so to speak.
LEIGH: Sexual harassment is a major issue for Australia. I think it's a significant cause of the gender pay gap in Australia, which has been stubbornly failing to close over recent decades. I think it's important that we see this not simply as women's work, but that blokes see it as an opportunity to step up, to call out sexual harassment where it's taking place, and to make sure that they're operating as allies for women in the workplace. That's just what a modern bloke should be doing. But then we also need to be modernising the laws. You know, the Sex Discrimination Act was passed way back in 1984 and we haven't advanced with other countries on this. The thing that Kate Jenkins says is Australia used to be a leader on issues of gender equality, if you go back to the 1970s and 1980s. We've actually fallen back beyond a lot of other countries, who've moved more rapidly - particularly in issues of sexual harassment - and therefore become more productive, more egalitarian as a result.
CENATIEMPO: Yeah, I think that's a fair comment. Of course, sunlight is the best disinfectant. I mean, bringing these things out in the open is always good. But is there a role for blokes like yourself behind the scenes to pull your colleagues by the ear and say, ‘hey mate, this is not good enough anymore’?
LEIGH: Absolutely. Anytime I saw that sort of behaviour, I would call it into line. I haven't seen it directly, the comments made in the Facebook page were new to me. But certainly I would see that as my role as a member of an organisation that I want to be the best it can be. Labor is always going to be a perfectible organisation, not a perfect organisation. But all of us have a responsibility in our workplaces to call our sexual harassment, and to make sure that everyone is living up to their full potential. Otherwise, we do end up with these entrenched gender inequalities with situations in which people aren't taking on jobs that involve risk and managerial responsibilities because they're fearful of harassment.
CENATIEMPO: Well, good on you for being part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Andrew Leigh, good to speak to you this morning.
LEIGH: Thanks, Steve.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.