Over half of all people currently employed in Australia’s federal parliament have experienced bullying, sexual harassment or sexual assault, a damning, much-anticipated review into the nation’s parliamentary workplace culture has revealed. 

Conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission and led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, the review found 37% of respondents have experienced bullying within the halls of Australia’s most powerful building, while 33% have endured sexual harassment and 1% some form of actual or attempted sexual assault.

Over 60% of women parliamentarians faced sexual harassment, against 24% for their male counterparts. 

The national average for women sits at 39%. 

The alleged rape of Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins inside Parliament House in 2019 is said to have triggered the review. 

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

The report, which was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday, interviewed close to 2,000 people.

The review highlighted a range of distributing anonymous accounts.

"Young women, particularly media advisers coming in, particularly the younger women coming in, were like fresh meat and challenges,” one person said, before another explained that “frequently, like at least every week, the advice was go and cry in the toilet so that nobody can see you, because that’s what it’s like up here.”

A separate individual disclosed the way one particular male colleague treated her.

"The MP sitting beside me leaned over. 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,” they wrote, while a second said “I was told that if I ever sought help or spoke about what happened to me, my professional reputation and personal life would be destroyed.”

Jenkins has made 28 critical recommendations, stemming around training, codes of conduct and inclusion targets.

Key recommendations include establishing an Office of Parliamentarian Staffing and Culture, for parliamentary leaders to officially recognise the damage caused, an investigation into how parliament operates to reduce sexist language and behaviour, and all progress to be made publicly available within 18 months. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison vowed to take the recommendations on board. 

"I am looking forward to continuing the multi-party process that we have begun, and to continue to work together to address all these issues in good faith,” he said in a public address Tuesday, posted on YouTube in full by ABC Australia. “I’ve instructed my department to provide every necessary resource and support required.”

Morrison added: “These are problems we all own, and these are problems we all have a responsibility together to fix.”


Demand Equity

1 in 3 People Working in Australia’s Parliament Have Been Sexually Harassed

By Madeleine Keck