Parliamentary Standards Committee Report


I rise to endorse the interim code of conduct. I speak as a member of the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Standards, which developed and worked particularly hard to consult, to listen, to think, to work together and to share our experience in bringing together the interim standards and codes in a way that thought about where we work, the people we work with and for and the people we represent. Respect at work is something we've heard a lot about. I spent nearly three decades working in schools. The first 10 years of that work in schools was in a classroom, not in leadership of adults, or grown-ups as we call them in schools. There were always debates about student behaviour. They would dominate a school if not dealt with appropriately. I've been involved in many cultural change moments, if you like, planned cultural change moments, where school communities would come together to agree on a set of values, to agree on a code of behaviour, to agree on non-negotiables in that community. And that is what we are doing here. That is all we are doing here. We are putting before our colleagues this summation of what respect looks like, and we're pleased that they are affirming what we have put down on paper to be real. That's what this document is.

From my classroom days to leading schools as a principal I've done enough change management, I've been involved in enough of these situations to know that human behaviour is not lineal. It is not singular. Everyone of us has different motivations, different drives. Some young people need high expectations and they will do whatever it takes to meet the expectations of someone that they respect. Some young people need clear guidelines. They need to know, 'What can I not do, and what will happen to me if I do it?' For some children that's really important. What we're trying to do in this document, and in this process as a parliament, is to say, 'This is how we agree we should work.' We're trying to put in place all of the parameters for the individuals who work with us so that we can meet their needs and help them to manage their behaviours. That's putting it bluntly; that's what's happening here.

In this place we are referred to as 'honourable members'. We have standing orders. We refer to one another by the names of the areas that we represent, by our divisions. I am in this chamber the member for Lalor. I am addressed every morning, in the opening of parliament, by a Speaker who says, 'honourable members'. Parliaments were established with those notions that people's behaviour would meet that expectation. There's a reason why we're called 'honourable members' first thing every day. It's to remind us that the one expectation of this place is that we behave honourably. It doesn't appear in our new code of conduct because it's there every day in our standing orders. The driving force in this is about acknowledging that we have power and influence and ensuring that we understand that power and that we don't misuse it. That we understand what respect means.

If I do an audit in a school, which I have done many of, I can see shared values plastered on the walls in this school. I can see codes of conduct. I can even sometimes see what the sanctions will be if they are breached. They're all around the school. To test whether those are alive, to test whether they're being lived and are not just words on a page, I would ask a child, 'Can you tell me what respect looks like?' That's what we do: 'Can you tell me what respect looks like?' The best answer to that question I've ever had was from a primary school child who said, 'It's about knowing how to say someone's name properly.' That went to the very core of me, that a child could understand that identity is critical to feeling dignity. A child can't articulate that, but this child could say to me respect is about knowing how to say people's names properly.

I'm from a very multicultural community and the school I'm talking about will have variations on a theme in terms of pronunciations of names. But it touched me because, as a teacher, that was always really important to me. It was important to me because I found a student in my classroom who, when it came to Year 12, when it came to registering for the exams, their name did not exist. They had been told on entering the school, in their entry interview, that they should adopt themselves an Anglo name that would be easy for people to say. That is about identity and that is about dignity and that is about respect. It stayed with me forever. So in my classroom— I'm not particularly good at pronunciation; I'm a single-language speaker. Lots of ways of making sounds were eliminated in me by the time I started school, so it's a struggle. I can't roll my Rs very well; I have to really concentrate. So it's always been important for me in my classroom to ensure that I am saying someone's name the way they choose to say it. That's what respect is. That's all this is about.

We're hearing a lot about the acceptance here, or the fact that bad behaviours have been tolerated. Parliament has always had hues, hints, in the ways we deal with one another—it's there embedded—but this is a modern way for us to come together and say: 'What does respect look like? How would I like to be treated? How do I want to treat others?' With these codes, if I sat with every individual in this parliament and said, 'Can you agree to this?" their answer would be a resounding 'yes'.

We also need to put in place the things that go around this. And, yes, for some people, the sanctions are the primary thought. I may have a different view, which I may have expressed a lot. Cultural change does things to people. We ask people; we tell people, 'Use the word "change".' For some people that triggers an anxiety about change. We need to be mindful, as we work through this process and in our conversations with one another, that everybody responds differently when they're confronted with change. So there will be some people for whom this is causing anxiety. I urge everybody across the parliament: if you're feeling even a slightly little bit anxious about what you're hearing from your colleagues, go to the pieces of paper and ask yourself, 'Is there anything in this document that I wouldn't ask someone of else and that I cannot ask of myself?' The answer is, 'Of course there isn't.' Of course we can all can agree that we want to act respectfully, professionally and with integrity. This change is not a challenge for parliamentarians.

I will finish by saying that, if we can ask five-year-olds in our classrooms to agree to a set of values, to agree to a code of behaviour, and if we can put the energy into five-year-olds to find ways for them to manage their own behaviour, then we can ask that of representatives in this place. When I say 'the member the North Sydney', and thank you for your work; when I say 'the member the Newcastle', and thank you for your work; when I say 'the member for Hawke'; when I say 'the member for Dunkley'; and when I say 'the member for Canberra', I am showing respect. It's built into the way we do things in this place. This is an extension of that. It's an acknowledgement of the fact that there have been behaviours in this workplace that have mortified us, and we commit to do better. And we want processes in place to ensure, as the member for Indi said so eloquently, that things are never swept under the carpet, that we have ways of moving forward. For some people, that may require heavy sanctions until they learn to control those behaviours. For other people, it may require a conversation, a mediation and a change in behaviour. For some people, they just need to know that it makes somebody else feel anxious or feel that they're being disrespected.

I commend the work of the committee to the House, I look forward to the way forward, and I want to thank the member for Newcastle for incredible leadership.

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