Workplace policy overhaul for NSW parly

·2-min read

Sexual harassment and bullying policies for NSW government ministers' offices will be overhauled after a "brutal" review found they were ineffective and unclear.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Wednesday she would accept all 13 recommendations made by former sex discrimination commissioner Pru Goward in a "very direct and very forthright" report, including the development of a new respectful workplace policy.

Ms Berejiklian appointed Ms Goward in February to evaluate the way complaints about harassment, bullying and sexual misconduct in her ministers' offices were handled, after the fallout from the handling of a rape complaint by former federal Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins.

"It's very important to me that we stress test everything that exists in and around NSW ministerial offices to make sure that we have in place good policies and culture," the premier said.

"I want to have a clear conscience that I've done everything I can to make sure that our workplace is supportive, respectful and fair, and that staff are always comfortable in coming forward in a safe setting."

Ms Goward, a former NSW minister, concluded the current protections and processes available to ministerial staff were "unclear, ineffective and inadequate".

But she said ministerial offices are at greater risk of experiencing misconduct than other workplaces, due to the power imbalances, the scrutiny on ministers as well as a lack of accountability, intensity and competitiveness, and informal management structures.

She found ministers and their staff don't receive routine training about bullying and harassment and how to manage complaints.

There is no mechanism to formally investigate complaints.

Ms Goward proposed developing a new respectful workplace policy based on best practice in similar organisations with significant power imbalances.

She recommended a victim-centric approach to handling complaints, to ensure complainants are supported and informed during the process.

"It's really making sure the victim is empowered to do things the way they feel is safe," Ms Berejiklian told reporters.

Formal and informal grievance procedures should be introduced, allowing for anonymous complaints to avoid victimisation, Ms Goward said.

An independent person should investigate complaints. They should also report regularly to Ms Berejiklian on emerging trends and any proposals to improve policies.

Ms Goward's review did not look at the prevalence of bullying and harassment within ministers' offices, but she's recommended an annual anonymous survey of ministers and staff.

Her consultation with current staff was only informal.

Ms Berejiklian said there would be an opportunity for consultation in the next phase of the process.

"If we're serious about making change, we have to do it properly and this will involve engagement with NSW parliament and any survivors," she said.

Ms Goward's report applies only to ministerial staff, not parliamentary staff, which is outside the premier's remit.

Ms Berejiklian has also asked Ms Goward to consult with the presiding officers of the NSW parliament to ensure there is a "very robust system" across all levels of government.