Equal Opportunity (Parliament) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

I would like to thank the honourable members for their contributions. I acknowledge and appreciate the opposition's indication of support. I note that there are anticipated discussions and contributions in the other place, and that they may be part of a debate on some amendments. We look forward to seeing those when received.

I particularly want to thank the member for Heysen for acknowledging the reformist nature of this legislation within the government's envelope of ensuring that we do deal with issues of reform, we do make things contemporary and we do take up the hard issues. We are prepared to do that. This is a bill that seeks to make amendments to reflect the community standards of today around sexual harassment and the expected conduct of members of parliament.

Although the opposition suggests that it is precipitated by a particular piece of behaviour, I do not ignore that. I am proud to be a member of a government that is prepared to take up this issue and to remedy what has probably needed to be remedied for some time. Although I will not traverse, for obvious reasons, the particular incident in December last year that has often been referred to, I make this point: during other governments, including the Rann and Weatherill governments—while I have been here as a member in the parliament, but I have been visiting this house since 1970—I saw a lot of events, and I have seen a lot of behaviour that in 2020 would not be acceptable in the precincts of this parliament.

All sorts of excuses can be made about the contemporary circumstances of those times, but even in the time I have been here in the last 20 years—which I consider to be a contemporary period—there has been unacceptable conduct, and it falls within this. It is a very unusual situation perhaps to traverse across party lines. It is not the only time. I think of a very famous federal foreign minister who ended up having a very long-term relationship with the head of the Democrat party at the time, Ms Kernot. It then became a very public event. But it is not common, probably for obvious reasons.

The fact is that behaviour has occurred and it has not been dealt with. It might have been kept quieter than this later incident, but the reality is that it is still unacceptable. The difficulty in being able to support people you know are victims in that situation—sometimes they have even come to me or others, my colleagues—is that they have not wanted to speak up. That is something that we have to respect, but nothing is done about it. I am very proud to be standing here as part of a government that is prepared to say, 'If it's right, we will deal with it.' We are not going to be deterred by something that is just too hard.

I want to explain also that the amendment to section 87(6c), which extends the categories of persons to include other members of parliament, is not retrospective. Comment has been made about this publicly as well. The government identified the deficiency in the legislation, and this is a bill that will address the matter going forward. The government is of the view in line with the general proposition that criminal laws, even with a civil penalty such as for unlawful conduct of sexual harassment, cannot seek to sanction a person for conduct that was not contrary to a law at the time the conduct was undertaken. That is the basic principle, and we do not take any differing view in relation to this.

To those who advocate that we should, I pose this question: how far should we go back? Should we go back over the last 10 years, or the last 36 years back to the establishment of the act, or to the time we introduced sexual harassment into the act? Let me say that, if we did that, there would be a lot of people who have passed through this parliament who would become the subject of an inquiry. I do not think that serves anybody, nor do I think it is acceptable, given that it offends the principle that we would be introducing it to make it retrospective.

The amendment at clause 4 of the bill, I just want to explain, will support the current practice of the equal opportunity commissioner by making it mandatory for the commissioner to postpone any investigation, conciliation or other work where there is a criminal investigation or a person has been or is to be charged with a criminal offence in relation to a matter that is the subject of a complaint.

I am advised that the current practice of the commissioner is to postpone investigations, conciliations and any other work on a complaint if informed that there is a criminal investigation or criminal charge relating to the matter. I am advised that the process is postponed until confirmation is received from the complainant that the criminal process is finalised and that they wish to continue with their complaint under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984. I place that on the record. That is direct advice from the commissioner herself as to how she operates these matters, and I just wanted to make sure that was abundantly clear on the record.

I look forward to the passage of the bill to address the limitations of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 in respect of its protections against sexual harassment for members of parliament by other members of parliament, and I conclude by again thanking members for their contribution. I would like to especially acknowledge the advice given by the equal opportunity commissioner during this exercise in relation to the development of the reforms in this regard.

Bill read a second time.