14 Oct 2022

Parties promise cooperation as Speaker orders review of Parliament's workplace culture

7:42 am on 14 October 2022
Speaker of the House Adrian Rurawhe

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Parliament's Speaker has asked independent investigator Debbie Francis to find out if there's less bullying and harassment in the precinct since her last inquiry.

In 2019, Francis found systemic problems at Parliament, with toxic behaviour and in some cases sexual assault.

Former speaker Trevor Mallard tasked her with investigating bullying and sexual harassment in the halls of power following a string of serious incidents involving MPs.

Over five months she interviewed 200 people and received 1000 submissions from those who work there.

"I found harmful behaviours to be systemic across the Parliamentary workplace. Bullying and harassment were reported to me from and between MPs, staff, managers and members of the public," Francis said in 2019 when her review was released.

Francis made more than 80 recommendations, including setting up a special advisory board, requiring everyone who works at Parliament to sign a new code of conduct and reviewing progress in three years' time.

Parliament's Speaker Adrian Rurawhe has asked Francis to look at how the workplace culture has changed since.

In an email to MPs, seen by RNZ, Rurawhe said her review won't be on the same scale as her work in 2019, but will involve interviews with MPs, staff, the press gallery and unions.

"It is important that after the work that has gone on over the past three years by parties and the three agencies that support Parliament [the Parliamentary Service, the Office of the Clerk, and Ministerial Services] we take stock, as an institution, of the effectiveness of that work.

"I am committed to having Debbie catalogue the story of the gains we've all made to date, as well as identifying possible opportunities going forward," the email said.

Francis had already spoken to the special advisory board of MPs monitoring changes to Parliament's culture, Rurawhe said.

Green MP Jan Logie is on the board.

"I know that a lot of work has happened, but the real test is hearing from people how far we've gone in the journey towards a safe work environment where everyone is able to bring their full self to work and able to thrive," she said.

There was still work to do, Logie said.

"I do have a concern still, in terms of what I've been hearing from staff, around the delays in how drawn out processes can be when the conflict involves a member of Parliament."

Logie said the Green Party would encourage its staff and MPs to participate if they "have got something to say".

Jan Logie

Jan Logie still has some concerns over the way processes work if there are claims around the behaviour of an MP. Photo: Pool / NZME

Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern told RNZ in a statement her party supported "all measures to make Parliament a better place to work".

A National Party spokesperson said it would cooperate with the review.

David Seymour said ACT MPs and staff would probably participate.

"We feel that we should be collegial within the institution but it's not the way we would do business. What ACT has done is created a culture...environment and organisation that is designed to minimise, if not eliminate, any kind of bad behaviour."

Parliament's culture had improved since the last Francis report largely because Rurawhe has replaced Mallard as Speaker, Seymour said.

He described the latest review as "tone deaf".

"The underlying assumption of it is that we can't quite trust the people to elect their representatives, therefore, some other elected higher power must come in and review them and check up on how they've been reviewed."

The culture check-up follows the latest series of bullying allegations at Parliament.

Independent MP Gaurav Sharma claimed MP-on-MP bullying was rampant and facilitated by those supposed to prevent it and two former staff members accused Labour MP Anna Lorck of bullying.

Francis will finish the review at the end of the year and develop a Parliamentary Culture Excellence Horizon, although it is not clear what exactly that is.

Rurawhe didn't respond to RNZ's request for an interview.

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