Submissions to an independent review of parliamentary workplace culture will remain confidential and exempt from freedom of information (FOI) requests, under proposed legislation that has passed the Senate.
The Upper House passed amendments to archives and freedom of information laws on Thursday.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, who worked with the opposition and crossbench to set up the inquiry, said the passing of the legislation through the Senate put strong protections in place.
“The participation of current and former staff in the independent review will be of paramount importance to bringing about the cultural and practical change that is necessary in our parliamentary workplace,” Senator Birmingham said.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins is heading the review, which was launched after a shocking allegation of rape in a ministerial office.
Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins last month went public with the allegation she was raped by a senior colleague in Parliament House in 2019.
She then called for a comprehensive, independent review of the laws that govern political staffers.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese sent a letter to the Prime Minister this week, after political staff raised concerns about the risk of their submissions being made public or accessed through FOI requests.
He said staff needed full confidence in the confidentiality of their submissions.
The letter stated the opposition would support expediting legislative amendments to resolve the issue before Parliament rises next week for the Easter break.
“The welfare of our staff must be our priority,” the letter states.
“They deserve nothing less than a completely safe and supportive workplace.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison met Mr Albanese this week to discuss the legislative changes.
“We agree that is a measure that should hopefully provide that comfort and provide that security for people,” Mr Morrison said.
“That’s what is agreed between the parties and we both have the same objective here and I hope we will be able to deal with that fairly expeditiously today and give people that confidence.”
The move is consistent with those taken in similar inquiries.
Protections were provided for people who gave information in private sessions of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the changes meant more people would likely come forward.
“It’s designed to ensure everyone who wants to take part in this review is confident that their privacy will be respected and protected, and I think you can assume from that more people will participate — more current staff, more former staff, are going to feel confident to participate,” he said.
The legislation is expected to go to the House of Representatives next week.