What role can Parlour can play in advocacy in relation to policy and governance matters? Justine Clark sees an opportunity to get organised and establish a small policy submission action group. Are you interested?

Workshop at Transformations: Action on Equity. Photo: Peter Bennetts.

One of the things Parlour is really good at is mobilising a committed community around the issues that matter. This is a fundamental part of the origin of the organisation.

One of the things we are not so good at is making detailed submissions to reviews, inquiries, and other formal processes. We did a few in the early days – including a submission to the Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review – but so many other deadlines to contribute via formalised processes have raced past, with that familiar whooshing sound. We have excellent research and knowledge on which to ground such submissions, but we are a small team with limited time, with a huge number of programs and projects underway. Too often we would like to make a submission but just don’t manage it.

Another thing we are really good at is grabbing an opportunity when it presents itself. One such chance came our way a few weeks ago when Alison Cox emailed us about her submission to the ABCB to allow the provision of all-gender bathrooms under the National Construction Code.

We knew this was an issue. Our good friend and collaborator John Held from the ACA had drawn our attention to it before – and pointed out that the NCC addresses discrimination in relation to disability but does not say a word about gender-based discrimination. John had already tried talking to the ABCB but hadn’t gained traction on this matter. Our colleague Simona Castricum’s research and advocacy makes it patently clear that many, many public spaces are unsafe for the trans and gender-diverse community – including but in no way limited to toilets. Over the years we had heard from various architects about how the NCC presents a major obstacle in terms of including all-gender facilities as part of the provision of amenity, despite this being clearly established as best practice. (It is important to note that the proposal is to allow the provision of some all-gender toilets, not that all toilets should be all-gender.)

The problem had been, we had no idea how to go about changing the National Construction Code. Luckily, Alison did. She had prepared a clear and coherent submission to the ABCB, including outlining the necessary changes word by word.

We were delighted to join her efforts, and to encourage other to do the same. We contacted Simona and John Held and the ACA, who offered immediate support. A post on Parlour Instagram garnered an enormous positive response. Many others responded to the website post, an email newsletter and personal emails. The Australian Institute of Architects and the Design Institute of Australia got on board. Jess Murphy, convenor of the Champions of Change Architecture Group, activated her own networks in the wider construction industry. Some people and practices drafted separate submissions, and many more provided written comment to be included in Alison’s submission.

In the end Alison’s submission to the ABCB went in with 50 supporting statements – from large organisations, practices of all sizes and many individuals. Some were eminently practical, others heart-rending. Simona wrote a separate submission on behalf of Transgender Victoria, strongly grounded in her exemplary research and in lived experience. Parlour contributed a statement of support to this submission also, as did the University of Melbourne Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning. Others also prepared separate submissions.

We don’t yet know if these efforts will be successful, and it is likely that sustained action will be required, but we are invigorated by the groundswell of interest.

This brings me to yet another thing Parlour is pretty good at – recognising when something works and figuring out how to build on it. Often these are things that happen organically and opportunistically, which we then convert into a (slightly) more structured initiative. Almost always it is about us providing a framework or context that enables others to contribute. And so, the experience of working with Alison on this campaign has shown us how Parlour might realise the long-held ambition to undertake advocacy via formal review and policy submissions.

The key, of course, is that we don’t need to do it all – and we can’t. But we can convene a group of interested people and support the efforts of knowledgeable experts and committed professionals. And we are very good at spreading the word and garnering support at all scales – from individuals to practices to large institutions.  

To this end, I propose that Parlour establishes a small policy submission action group. This group can identify opportunities to help encourage structural change through formal processes. Sometimes this might be a matter of writing submissions, but it might also be a matter of supporting others who are doing this work. Parlour can then use its communication prowess and extensive networks to help build support.  

Are you interested?

Yes? Get in touch!

Justine Clark is a co-founder and director of Parlour.