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Senator Rice questions APSC about gender-neutral bathrooms in government buildings

Estimates & Committees
Janet Rice 22 May 2017

Senator RICE:  I understand that the department of environment has installed new non-gendered toilets in its buildings in Canberra and that Treasury will be doing so in a new refurbishment. Is that correct?

Mr Lloyd : I have seen a report that the department of environment did that. In relation to the Treasury, there was an article about the Treasury building, which we are moving into, but the article was not entirely accurate.

Senator RICE:  What is the case, then?

Mr Lloyd : The case is that we are moving into three floors of the building and on each floor there will be an accessible single-occupant toilet , and the other toilets will be the normal toilets for males and females. That is the arrangement.

Senator RICE:  Is it a responsibility of the Australian Public Service Commission to provide policy guidelines for gender-neutral toilets?

Mr Lloyd : No. My view is agencies have to comply with various laws and regulations. Often an agency will be leasing the property and the provision of toilets et cetera will be the responsibility of the building owner. There is no APS-wide policy on this.

Senator RICE:  I had seen media reports that there were new inclusion policies being developed for the Public Service.

Mr Lloyd : No, not in this issue.

Senator RICE:  Are there new inclusion policies being developed?

Ms Foster : We took up with the journalist his assertion that we were developing a new inclusion policy to cover this and advised him that we had not made any statement to that effect. He indicated he had other sources for that information. And, no, we do not have any plans, at this stage, for a new inclusion policy.

Senator RICE:  That was not correct, then. In terms of gender-neutral toilets , do you know whether there are any other plans across the Public Service for departments to have gender-neutral bathroom facilities?

Mr Lloyd : No, I do not.

Senator RICE:  And it is not something that the Australian Public Service Commission is going to be pursuing.

Mr Lloyd : No.

Senator RICE:  Is the issue of gender-diverse and transgender people being comfortable in their workplace something that you think the Public Service Commission should be engaged with and should be of interest to you?

Mr Lloyd : Of course. Everybody in the workplace has a right to be treated with respect. All of our policies and various emanations of our policies are directed at that, including transgender people.

Senator RICE:  As you say, everyone has a right to be treated with respect. Do you agree that everyone has a right to feel comfortable at work as well?

Mr Lloyd : Of, course, yes.

Senator RICE:  Do you understand that transgender and gender-diverse people may not feel comfortable at work if they cannot access gender-neutral bathroom facilities?

Mr Lloyd : They may, but my sense is that—say, in the building mentioned in this case—there is a capacity to cater for those. 

Senator RICE:  In what way?

Mr Lloyd : The accessible single-occupant toilet would be an opportunity. If they were not inclined to go to the regular-type male or female toilet they could go to that single-occupant toilet.

Senator RICE:  Have you done any consultation with transgender or gender-diverse people across the Public Service about what their preferences would be for their toilet facilities?

Mr Lloyd : I have not.

Ms Foster : No. We have broad guidances, as the commissioner said, about treating people with respect and courtesy. But the specific policies—for example, for facilities within buildings—are the responsibility of each agency, and each agency head carries a responsibility to ensure that they consult with their staff and that they provide appropriate responses to that.

Senator RICE:  Do you do any monitoring as to whether agencies have, indeed, consulted with their transgender staff regarding the bathroom facilities?

Ms Foster : I am sorry, Senator?

Senator RICE:  Do you do any monitoring? Do you have any details of whether agencies have, indeed, consulted with their transgender staff?

Ms Foster : We are aware that all agencies have some form of consultative mechanism with their staff and that staff are free to, and in fact do, raise with the agency management the questions that they want asked. In our instance it was not an issue raised by our staff through our consultative mechanisms.

Senator RICE:  Do you know how many transgender staff there are in the Australian Public Service?

Ms Foster : No, I do not.

Senator RICE:  Is it something that you would be monitoring?

Ms Foster : We ask a range of questions in our employee census each year. I am just trying to recall what questions we have in the current year's census. Ms Bull might be able to help us.


Ms Bull : For the first time, in this year's census—which is currently in the field—we have asked a question of staff about whether they identify as LGBTI+. That has not closed; we do not have any other data on that at the moment.

Senator RICE:  Does it ask them specifically whether they identify as being transgender or gender diverse?

Ms Bull : No, not at this stage.

Senator RICE:  So you do not have any information, then, about the need in the Public Service for having bathroom facilities that cater for transgender people?

Ms Foster : Individual agencies may well ask their staff that question and may well take that into account in their planning. What we do is take a broad perspective and say: what data do we sensibly need at a whole-of-APS level in order to respond to the needs of our employees?

Senator RICE:  Do you provide guidelines to agencies as to how to ensure that they respect employees?

Ms Foster : We provide guidance across a very broad range of issues.

Senator RICE:  But not about this issue of providing bathroom facilities for transgender people?

Ms Foster : No. In fact it is an issue that has only begun to be debated very recently.

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