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The Canberra Times
The Canberra Times
Jasper Lindell

Legislative Assembly adopts code to govern sexual assault handling

The Legislative Assembly, where members have endorsed a new code of conduct and standing orders. Picture by Karleen Minney

Members of the ACT Legislative Assembly will be bound by an updated code of conduct governing how bullying, harassment and sexual assault is handled in the territory's parliament.

The changes follow high-profile reviews of parliamentary workplaces that were commissioned following the rape allegations made by former staffer Brittany Higgins in the Federal Parliament.

Changes to the code of conduct are based on recommendations from the Assembly's ethics and integrity adviser, Stephen Skehill.

Assembly members on Thursday agreed to a new provisions in the code of conduct, governing the way allegations are handled and complainants are treated.

Members will be required to offer and provide support to a person who indicates they would make a complaint about bullying, sexual and other harassment, sexual assault or discrimination.

Members will also undertake to "seek to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of any such complainant and to recognise their possible need for trauma-informed care".

Members must also have regard to the confidentiality of personal information, a complainant's right to decide whether or not to pursue an official investigation and the need to preserve any evidence.

The code of conduct, which will be in force from October 9, will say members must "fully cooperate with any official inquiry in connection with a complaint", "take appropriate action if they observe another person engaging in bullying, sexual and other harassment, sexual assault and discrimination" and not offer "improper inducement" to prevent or encourage people making complaints.

Mr Skehill wrote that he was unaware of any systemic or historic problems within the Legislative Assembly of the kind identified in reviews of other parliaments.

"Nevertheless, I consider that it would be short-sighted and inappropriate to consider that issues of this nature could not arise in the future," Mr Skehill wrote.

"Prevention is far better than cure, and dealing expressly with such issues in the Members' Code of Conduct may raise levels of awareness and assist in deterring future conduct of this nature."

The Assembly also adopted a series of amendments to its standing orders, which govern how the sessions of the territory's parliament are run.

The new standing orders will introduce a 10-minute period for members to make 90-second statements on sitting days, abandon referring to members by gender-identifying honorifics, such as Mr and Ms, during divisions, and remove other gendered terminology.

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