One in three people working in Australia’s Parliament have experienced sexual harassment, a report published on Tuesday after a seven-month investigation showed.
The inquiry was commissioned by the Australian government after a former parliamentary staff member, Brittany Higgins, said she had been raped by a colleague in a minister’s office. After this, a wave of allegations of sexual assault, abuse and misconduct emerged from the highest offices of Australian politics. Thousands of people marched across the country in March, calling for an end to violence against women.
Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins carried out the review and found that 51% of staffers had experienced at least one incident of bullying, sexual harassment or actual or attempted sexual assault.
The report highlighted that while both men and women spoke of their experiences, the harassment and bullying was disproportionately suffered by female staff and MPs.
“Such experiences leave a trail of devastation for individuals and their teams and undermine the performance of our Parliament to the nation’s detriment,” said Jenkins, the report’s author.
One unidentified participant of the review told investigators that the culture allowed “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” and the usual behaviour.
Jenkins suggested a series of measures to ensure that Parliament was not a hostile workplace, especially for young female staff members. This includes greater gender balance among parliamentarians and their staff, reducing regular alcohol use and the creation of a new human resources office to deal with complaints.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the findings of the report as appalling. “We all share in the ownership of the problems that are set out in this report,” he added. “But we all share in implementing the solutions as well. And we each have a role to play regardless of what role you have.”
Green Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the review was a “damning expose of the sexist culture and harassment in politics”.