Sexual harassment rife inside Australian parliament, report finds

·2-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

More than half of employees in Australia’s federal parliament have experienced bullying, sexual harassment or sexual assault, a landmark review has found.

The report into its workplace culture was commissioned after a former staffer, Brittany Higgins, said she had been raped by a colleague in a minister’s office in 2019.

Her story sparked a wave of wide-ranging allegations of misconduct that took place in Canberra.

The report, titled Set the Standard, found that 51 per cent of staffers had experienced some form of bullying, sexual harassment or actual or attempted sexual assault.

Some 37 per cent of interviewees who still currently worked at the parliament said they had experienced some form of bullying while working there, while 33 per cent said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment.

It found that 63 per cent of female parliamentarians had experienced sexual harassment - an even higher percentage than for political staffers.

One unnamed MP told the review: “Aspiring male politicians who thought nothing of, in one case, picking you up, kissing you on the lips, lifting you up, touching you, pats on the bottom, comments about appearance, you know, the usual. The point I make with that ... [w]as the culture allowed it, encouraged it.”

Survey results indicate around 1 per cent of people have experienced some form of actual or attempted sexual assault.

The victims who came forward were disproportionately women, said Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, who authored the report.

She wrote: “Too often, we heard that these workplaces are not safe environments for many people within them, largely driven by power imbalances, gender inequality and exclusion and a lack of accountability.

“Such experiences leave a trail of devastation for individuals and their teams and undermine the performance of our Parliament to the nation’s detriment.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the findings as “appalling”, adding: “I wish I found it more surprising”.

The review, which was tabled in federal parliament on Tuesday, interviewed some 1,723 people.

The report made recommendations including improving leadership and gender balances, and reducing a culture of alcohol.

Ms Higgins said she urged MPs across the political divide to “implement these recommendations in full”.

“I want to thank the many brave people who shared their stories, which contributed to this review,’’ she said.

More than four thousand people work in Australian Parliament House on any given sitting day.

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