A damning report on workplace culture has found that one in three Australian parliamentary staffers have been sexually harassed. Respondents called it a “man’s world” where women “felt lucky” to have anyone hear their concerns.
The report, titled ‘Set the Standard’, was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday. It found that more than half of those who worked among the country’s lawmakers had experienced some form of bullying, sexual harassment or actual or attempted sexual assault. The victims were more likely to be women.
The report revealed that some 63% of respondents had experienced sexual harassment. Meanwhile, men were found to be responsible for the majority of such behavior in parliamentary workspaces. One female MP told the Australian Human Rights Commission that the “culture allowed [and] encouraged” this.
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.
Another person told the inquiry that Parliament was a “man’s world and you are reminded of it every day thanks to the looks up and down you get.” Others said they were “lucky enough” to have female supervisors to raise their concerns.
Describing the findings as “appalling,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison stressed there was “no excuse” to “normalize inappropriate, unhealthy and unprofessional behavior.” While noting that he wished he “found [the results] more surprising,” he expressed his belief that the Parliament was safer now than it had been at the start of the year.
Current and former politicians and staffers – the majority of them women – were among the 1,723 people who responded to the inquiry, which conducted nearly 500 interviews. The review was launched earlier this year after a former staffer, Brittany Higgins, alleged she had been raped in 2019 by a colleague in a minister’s office. Her claims prompted a wave of other allegations of misconduct.
Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins, who authored the report, noted that such experiences “leave a trail of devastation for individuals and their teams and undermine the performance of our Parliament to the nation’s detriments.”
The report called for structural reforms and made a host of recommendations, including improving leadership and gender balances, and addressing a culture of alcohol use.