The right to bare arms: Home Affairs bureaucrats’ brains are absent without sleeve

Kristina Keneally doffed her jacket in protest against Home Affairs' war on sleeveless tops.

Kristina Keneally doffed her jacket in protest against Home Affairs' war on sleeveless tops. Photo: ABC

So, in this week’s episode of “Could this country get more embarrassing and out of touch?” the Department of Home Affairs has tried to ban bare arms on their 14,000 staff, proposing a new dress code that prohibits sleeveless tops, dresses, blouses, and anything “too revealing”, as well as jeans, T-shirts, polo shirts and sneakers, both at work and even during video conferencing calls while working from home.

Someone really sensible, i.e., Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) national secretary Melissa Donnelly, took up arms, excuse the pun, arguing the wording of the dress code policy appeared to target women, who comprise about 54 per cent of Home Affairs staff.

The Fair Work Commission knocked back the proposal on Wednesday, stating that the dress code rules couldn’t be brought in without staff being consulted. But the matter is not over – and it could still become policy if Home Affairs speaks with unions and staff and they agree.

On Thursday, ABC journalist Patricia Karvelas asked New South Wales Senator Kristina Keneally on-air what she thought of Home Affairs’ attempted ban. This resulted in Keneally shrugging off her black jacket, rolling her eyes and revealing a pristine white tank top, much to Karvelas’ amusement. The sentiment “Surely they have more pressing issues to think about?” resounded across the nation, especially with menopausal women.

Karvelas had her own run in with the sleeveless debate back in 2018, when she was kicked out of Question Time at Parliament House for the insane reason that she was showing too much shoulder in her cap-sleeved silk top.

The outfit that failed to meet parliamentary dress standards. Photo: Twitter/Patricia Karvelas

Ooh, boy! They don’t quite have their eye on either the present or the future at Home Affairs, do they? The footwear deemed unsuitable included thongs, gumboots, Crocs, Ugg boots, slippers, joggers, runners, track or sports shoes, which makes up about 95 per cent of the average person’s shoe wardrobe and pretty much every international catwalk. Every executive in Silicon Valley wears Allbirds sneakers 24/7. It’s going to be impossible to buy a dress shoe soon!

The ‘right to bare arms’ conversation seems like a quaint little notion from the 20th century. In 2015, the New York City Commission on Human Rights announced new guidelines that expressly prohibited “enforcing dress codes, uniforms, and grooming standards that impose different requirements based on sex or gender”.

So, while the Department of Home Affairs obsesses about the subversive nature of the sleeveless blouse, the rest of the world is getting up to speed with facial tattoos, multiple piercings, crazy coloured hair, non-gender specific fashion, jewellery, nail styles and the wearing of clothes with cultural significance and meaning.

Earlier this year, New Zealand MP Rawiri Waititi was ejected from parliament for breaking its dress code by wearing a traditional pendant, known as a hei-tiki , instead of a tie (he also has an impressive tā moko facial tattoo).

Rawiri Waititi was ejected from NZ parliament for not wearing a tie. Photo: Getty

It was later decreed that ties would no longer be required as part of “appropriate business attire”, which Mr Waititi said was a “win for the many generations to come”.

Another sensible person, NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, said she did not object to parliamentarians refusing to wear ties, but that there were bigger things to be focusing on.

“I don’t think New Zealanders care about ties,” she said.

She was probably wearing a sleeveless top when she said it.

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