Several MPs say Parliament is a perfectly safe place to work, but the Speaker and a former staffer disagree.
Speaker Trevor Mallard commissioned an external review of workplace bullying and harassment for all staffers, contractors, and former staffers at Parliament in the last four years – roughly 3000 people.
“Incidents have occurred over many years in this building that are unacceptable,” Mallard said as he launched the review.
“I wouldn’t recommend my kids work there,” he told The AM Show on Wednesday.
Working in Parliament can be stressful, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a great place to work. I think we need to separate out the issues around the institution as a whole, and how some MPs manage or mismanage staff.
Most MPs are good bosses to work for. Most staff not only like working for their MP, they love it. They find them inspiring, they find the work interesting and they like the fact they are part of doing something politically substantive.
Some MPs are not great to work for. This is not surprising as we have 120 MPs. Out of any sample of 120 bosses, you’d find some who are bad bosses. And many MPs have not had experience managing staff before they become an MP and/or a Minister.
As a former employee I’ve had some great bosses and some awful bosses. Ironically the awful bosses may have made me a better employer myself for I remember so well what I hated about how I was treated by them, and try to avoid ever doing that myself.
Now we have the issues around the institution as a whole. They do combine to make some parliamentary offices challenging, or worse. They are:
- MPs are not managers who can be demoted by a superior manager if they turn out be a bad people manager. They are elected representatives who can only be sacked at an election. So in any employment dispute, it can never ever be resolved by the MP being sacked or moved sideways. MPs have a constitutional right to have staff who work for them. So there is a limit to what can be done if an MP is a bad manager of staff. If they hold a role of responsibility, their party leader can demote them doing the ranks, but not change their status as an MP.
- MPs future careers depend partly on how well they in areas such as oral questions, media interviews, policy development etc. In most jobs if you have a shocker of a day, no one really knows about it and doesn’t impact you too much in future. But an MPs future can be crippled if they get humiliated in the House because they had the wrong facts etc. So if staff stuff up, the consequences for their MP can be huge.
- There are bouts of high pressure. Between 11.30 am and 2.00 pm it can be a bit of a mad house as you have two and a half hours only to prepare for question time.
Now this doesn’t excuse that some MPs treat staff badly. And I am sure there are improvements that can be made. But one has to be realistic about how much change can be made due to the nature of Parliament.
And it is probably fair to note that Mr Speaker himself has had a fair share of controversy himself in the past. There is a danger in trying to move to the moral high ground too quickly.