Independent Review reveals bullying and harassment in Parliament

The ‘Francis report’, the final report of the External Independent Review into Bullying and Harassment in Parliament, has been released. I think that it was well known that there were some serious problems with behaviour in Parliament. This report confirms it.

Reviewer Debbie Francis:

This Report traverses sensitive matters within one of the most complex and demanding workplaces in New Zealand. The story goes as much to the health of our democracy and New Zealanders’ pride in their Parliament as it does to matters of employment, health, safety and workplace culture.

My findings need to be addressed with care and the solutions recommended here are complex and wide-ranging. For these reasons I encourage readers to take the time to read the Report in its entirety.

The Story in a Nutshell

  • Bullying and harassment are systemic in the parliamentary workplace.
  • The story is complex, involving harmful behaviour by and between staff, managers, Members,
    media and the public.
  • There are unique features of the workplace that create risk factors for bullying and harassment,
    including:
    – A high-intensity culture
    – Lack of investment in leadership development
    – Unusual and complex employment arrangements
    – Largely operational, rather than strategic, workforce management
    – Health, safety and wellbeing policies and systems that are not yet mature
    – Barriers to making complaints; and
    – Inadequate pastoral care.
  • Unacceptable conduct is too often tolerated or normalised.
  • The identities of many accused are an open secret, and there are alleged serial offenders.
  • A core perceived problem is low accountability, particularly for Members, who face few sanctions
    for harmful behaviour.
  • The leadership roles and profiles of Members, Ministers and chief executives provide them
    opportunities to be important role models by:
    – Setting and modeling expectations for dignified and respectful conduct
    – Holding colleagues and staff to account for their conduct
    – Investing further in the development of leaders and managers
    – Reforming the employment model, professionalising the workforce and further investing in
    strategic human resource management
    – Establishing new independent bodies and processes for complaints and investigations; and
    – Extending the provision of pastoral care.
  • The changes needed to the culture of the parliamentary workplace are comprehensive and
    complex. They will require skilled implementation and must be sustained and monitored over a
    period of years.

Some complaints have been classified as ‘extremely serious’. Francis on about what complainants can do now:

This Report is based on the patterns and themes that emerged from these submissions, interviews and discussions. I am reporting here on the perceptions of participants, where I found consistent patterns in their responses.

As will become clear, I received many accusations of harmful behaviour made against individuals, staff, managers and Members, some of whom were regarded by complainants as serial offenders.

My role as reviewer was not to investigate any new or historic complaints – as per the Terms of Reference. However, any such new or historic complaints are not prevented from being progressed by complainants in the appropriate avenues open to them.

I have ensured that any respondents who indicated they wished to take steps outside the Review process regarding any such concerns were provided with information about the avenues for that, and the support available to them, in order to do so.

Full report: Independent External Review into Bullying and Harassment in the New Zealand Parliamentary Workplace – Final Report

Speaker Trevor Mallard:

The Speaker said today “This review was commissioned to establish if the parliamentary workplace is a place where harmful behaviour occurs, and in some cases is supported by the system. The report confirms this harmful behaviour occurs, and recommends changes that can be made to ensure the system does not enable or support this behaviour.”

“Together with the agencies and all political parties, I am committed to making changes to ensure the parliamentary workplace is free from harmful behaviour. We will now consider the report’s recommendations. The issues in the report will not be a quick fix and any solutions will need to have input from those affected and address the systemic issues.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern:

“The findings of this report are rightly being taken very seriously. Parliament, like any other workplace, should be free from bullying and harassment and we need to make improvements.

“In response to the report, I have asked to receive regular reports from the Department of Internal Affairs and Parliamentary Services on how offices are working generally as well as any exceptional reports where an issue needs to be raised with me promptly.

“I will also share this information with the Labour Party to ensure a joined-up approach in any action that may be taken as a result of these reports.

“While I acknowledge we work in an environment of long hours and pressure, excuses won’t be tolerated.

“At Cabinet and Caucus I have reiterated my expectation that we treat one another with dignity and respect”.

Parliament has set a very poor example of behaviour. It won’t be easy to change what has too often been an abusive and toxic environment.

 

Review into bullying and harassment at Parliament

The Speaker, Trevor Mallard, has announced an external review into the bullying and harassment of staff at Parliament.

Note that this doesn’t address behaviour between MPs in Parliament or via the media, and it doesn’t address bullying and harassment of MPs by media.


Independent review launched into bullying and harassment at Parliament

Speaker of the House, Rt Hon Trevor Mallard, announced today that an independent external review into bullying and harassment of staff within the Parliamentary workplace will take place.

“Bullying and harassment are not acceptable in any workplace. It’s important that people at Parliament feel respected, safe, and supported each day coming to work,” the Speaker said.

The review will begin in early December 2018 and is expected to take at least four months to complete. It will look to:

  • Establish whether bullying and harassment (including sexual harassment) has occurred and, if it has, the nature and extent of this towards staff employed or engaged since the 51st Parliament (since October 2014). This includes contract staff, who regularly work on precinct, and former staff who no longer work in the Parliamentary workplace.
  • Review how previous complaints have been handled; whether policies, procedures, and related controls are effective; how they compare to best practice and the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015; and whether there are any barriers to reporting or making complaints
  • Assess the culture of Parliament as a place to work and allow for consideration of other matters brought up in the review.

A draft report, with findings and recommendations, will be presented to the Speaker and the Chief Executive or General Manager of participating Parliamentary agencies. Following the delivery of the report, the agencies will consider how to action the report’s recommendations.

At an appropriate time, the report will be made public.

Who is leading the review?

Debbie Francis, an experienced consultant and independent external reviewer, will carry out the review. Debbie has previously led performance improvement reviews at Parliament, and elsewhere on behalf of the State Services Commission. Her recent work on bullying and harassment at the New Zealand Defence Force will be of particular value to this review.

The Speaker is sponsoring the review and will work with the agencies for which he is responsible to address the findings.

Participating in the review

The review will provide current and former Parliamentary staff with an opportunity to share any relevant experiences of bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, within the Parliamentary workplace. The review covers people employed or engaged by the Parliamentary Service, Ministerial and Secretariat Services, and the Office of the Clerk since the 51st Parliament.