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  • John McDonnell

Bullying and harassment rife in Parliament House

PM Morrison (right) at Tuesday's press conference releasing the report with Attorney-General Cash

On Tuesday, during question time the prime minister tabled the report of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, into the workplace culture in Parliament House. The report, which the government commissioned in the wake of allegations by Brittany Higgins that she had been raped in a minister’s office, was released to the media and the opposition earlier on Tuesday.

The findings in the report are disturbing. One third of staffers working on the hill claim to have been harassed at work.

The report found women were more likely to experience bullying and sexual harassment in parliamentary workplaces.

Thirty-three per cent of people currently in parliamentary workplaces have personally experienced sexual harassment at work, the report found.

Of those, 40 per cent were women and 26 per cent were men.

It was also revealed that 42 per cent of women experienced bullying compared to 32 per cent of men.

Sexual assault or attempted sexual assault was typically experienced by women, the report found.

One person told the report:

“(T)he MP sitting beside me leaned over. Also thinking he wanted to tell me something, I leaned in. He grabbed me and stuck his tongue down my throat. The others all laughed. It was revolting and humiliating.”

Another participant told the Commission a parliamentarian both sexually harassed and sexually assaulted her.

“(He) actually put his hand up my skirt and tried to kiss me at that party. And it was quite disgusting.
“And I was also told by state parliamentarians and members of the party constantly that they need young, sexy, attractive women in the ... party ... it’s just off, it really is off.”

A parliamentarian described an incident where a colleague had forced their hand down a staff member’s pants.

Another participant described an incident they were aware of in which a parliamentarian who, being completely naked when a worker walked into their office, addressed the worker “as if nothing was untoward”.

Other incidents in the report included individual staffers repeatedly asking employees out on dates, propositioning them while travelling for work, groping young parliamentary staffers and slapping other staffers on the buttocks as they walked past.

The report makes 28 recommendations to address bullying, sexual harassment and assault in parliament and across 227 electorate offices around the country.

Key recommendations included setting clear standards and establishing an independent complaints body to enforce them as well as developing an alcohol policy and setting 10-year gender equality targets.

Commissioner Jenkins said the report’s survey results that 51 per cent experienced sexual harassment, assault or bullying was “unacceptably high”.

“A lack of clear standards of conduct, limited accountability and power imbalances, combine with the high-intensity, high stakes nature of the work, the pursuit of political power and advantage, the frequent blurring of personal and professional life and the intense loyalty to political parties to create specific risk factors unique to this workplace.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the behaviour outlined in the report was “appalling” and “disturbing” but he stressed it involved all political parties, telling reporters:

“We all share in the ownership of the problems set out in the report and we all share in the solutions.
“It’s important we understand that these cultures don’t appear in a short period of time - they appear over a long period of time.”

The Prime Minister added that “stresses in workplaces like this are real but this is no excuse whatsoever to normalise inappropriate, unhealthy and unprofessional behaviour”.

“Just because what you do is important and stressful, and demanding could never normalise that behaviour as being somehow okay.”


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