ERN Submission to the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces


Creating a positive work environment for female staff to thrive

In July 2021, the Elizabeth Reid Network (ERN) provided a submission to the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces. It details the experiences and stories of hundreds of current and former female staff. It draws on data collected from an anonymous workplace culture survey which 227 ERN members participated in during April/May 2021 as well as data from ERN online forums, research and face-to-face events.


The majority of survey respondents had experienced sexual harassment, gendered discrimination and bullying whilst working as a staffer. There were also many incidents of sexual assault recorded. 

Below is a summary of our key recommendations. Through the recommendations we are seeking to achieve a safer workplace in political offices, with an inclusive and positive culture where women can thrive.


Our recommendations focus on change in four key areas:


•  Complaints handling        •  Culture        •  Women’s participation        •  Human resources


REACTIVE MEASURES (how to handle incidents of bullying and harassment, once they occur)


Measures to improve complaints handling

1.   Establish an independent authority for sexual harassment complaints        

2.   Provide Staff and MP training on complaints handling      

3.   Establish and promote professional counselling services      

4.   Develop a retrospective complaints function


PROACTIVE MEASURES (ways to reduce the incidence of bullying and harassment)


Measures to improve culture        


​5.   Develop a Code of conduct        

6.   Foster a culture of respect*          

7.   Develop a protocol on alcohol use        

8.   Establish and promote alcohol-free networking opportunities*   

9.   Institutionalise better working hours and conditions*

Measures to increase women’s participation         


10.   Establish a measure for public reporting of female staff participation        

11.   Set gender quotas for senior staff*          

12.   Establish mentoring opportunities*        

13.   Promote professional development        

14.   Establish a sabbatical program (for staffers to have opportunities for secondments in other workplaces)*

Stronger human resources support         


15.   Onboarding and management training for staff and MPs        

16.   Establish an independent HR Department for political staff

*These recommendations are best placed for political parties to lead, with support from the public service, the remainder should be led by the public service, with strong support from political parties.

Elizabeth Reid Network

The Elizabeth Reid Network was launched in 2016 as a network for current and former women advisers within the Australian Labor Party. Its goal is to create a network to support women advisers and to encourage their participation in the political process.

Where are they now?

Since our patron, Elizabeth Reid, became the first Women’s Adviser ever appointed by a Prime Minister in 1973, there have been literally thousands of women employed as staffers of ALP parliamentarians and party offices.

Now you can learn what some of these fabulous women have gone on to do in their professional (and personal) lives.

Read the latest in our 'Where are they Now' Series from Natalie Barr.



In Conversation with Penny Wong

The ERN hosted our first ever online event with the wonderful Senator Penny Wong - more than 40 members participated and we heard from all three Bridget Whelan Scholarship recipients about their study tours and outcomes (including from Rachael Durrant who had given birth to her first child only weeks beforehand). Georgia Worth provided an update on her survey of current and former female staffers and members expressed great interest in hearing more about this in the coming months.  Senator Wong welcomed input from the ERN into current party work around better protections and support for female staff members which was taken up enthusiastically by the ERN Committee.

Watch out for more online events in future - a great way to bring our diverse national and international network together!


National Labor Conference Fringe Event:


We had a great event at the Adelaide ALP Fringe Conference in December, with special guests The Hon. Kate Ellis MP (Member for Adelaide), and Clare O'Neil MP (Member for Hotham, Shadow Minister for Financial Services) discussing some of the key issues facing women in politics today. Hosted by the president of the Elizabeth Reid Network, Annie O'Rourke.  

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