Sexual harassment training for MPs an hour long - and optional

Sexual harassment training for federal government MPs will be optional and just one hour long, attracting criticism from the Opposition and advocacy groups.

A government tender put to market by the Department of Finance has revealed that the sessions will give practical training on how to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault, as well as address systemic bullying. The department is looking for an external training organisation to facilitate the sessions.

They will also cover how to respond appropriately to a problem and what advice to give on reporting options, the ABC reports. The tender explains that trainers will need to prepare for participants who have little to no knowledge of sexual harassment or reporting incidents.

“By the end of the session, managers and MPs should be able to understand ‘behaviours [that] do or do not constitute assault, sexual assault, sexual harassment and serious and systemic bullying and harassment’,” the tender says.

“They should also be able to understand workplace health and safety obligations as an employer and what is needed to ‘provide a safe and respectful workplace’.”

Read: Report finds Australian parliament lacks real code of conduct

The training was recommended after an internal report completed in the wake of allegations that former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins was raped at Parliament House in the office of then-defence minister Linda Reynolds.

The Parliamentary Workplace: Responding to Serious Incidents report recommended a number of measures including an independent complaints mechanism, a recalibrated victim support system and face-to-face training sessions for federal MPs and staff to be conducted by an external training provider.

The tender was opened on 12 July and will accept applications up until 6 August. The project is then expected to run for approximately 12 months to 30 June 2022.

But the single one-hour sessions are optional for federal MPs, with junior staffers required to attend a two-hour session that ‘may’ become mandatory. Opposition MPs and union groups have told The Guardian they have serious doubts about the proposal, maintaining it will be inadequate.

Read: Aussies expect pollies to lie, but expect them to resign when caught

“This training should be mandatory. It’s disappointing that the government has refused to do this,” says senior Labor MP Tanya Plibersek.

“Ensuring the parliament is a safe workplace is everyone’s business.

“That’s why Labor has already begun rolling out training on the prevention of sexual harassment and workplace bullying for our senior staff.”

Queensland Greens senator Larissa Waters says making the proposal optional is unacceptable and at odds with what is required.

“Sexual harassment and workplace safety training should be mandatory, ongoing, and delivered by experts,” she says.

“The government is still not listening to women, who are harassed in most workplaces right across the nation.”

Read: PM open to drug and alcohol testing to fix government culture problems

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) is also highly critical of the new measures, saying they don’t inspire confidence that workplace standards will improve.

“The proposal for optional one-hour training will not meet the desperate need to educate parliamentarians, senior staff and office mangers on protecting staff from sexual harassment and bullying and establish appropriate standards for workplace behaviour,” says CPSU national secretary Melissa Donnelly.

“This is just a tick and flick exercise. The Morrison government has no interest in meaningful workplace change.”

Are you satisfied with the government’s response to these issues? Will an optional one-hour session be enough? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer



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