Young women in parliament are treated like ‘fresh meat’, people often cry in the toilets and one third of workers in the building are sexually harassed, according to a damning report.
Some 37 per cent of parliament workers have been bullied and 77 per cent have heard about cases of bullying and harassment, the report by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins report found.
The report contained damning anecdotes from anonymous participants, one of whom said it was the ‘most sexist’ place they had ever worked in.
The report was commissioned nine months ago after former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins (pictured), 26, alleged she was raped in Parliament House after a night out in 2019
‘I guess there is a workplace culture of drinking. There’s not a lot of accountability. The boys are lads. And that behaviour is celebrated and… they do treat women, our female staffers and female admin staff, quite differently,’ the interviewee said.
‘Young women, particularly media advisers coming in, particularly the younger women coming in, were like fresh meat and challenges.’
The report found a total of 61 per cent of bullies were women while 81 per cent of sexual harassers were men.
One in four people who experienced sexual harassment said they were harassed by a politician and only 11 per cent of people who experienced sexual harassment reported it.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was shocked by the statistics but not surprised.
‘Like anyone who works in this building, I find the statistics that are presented there, of course appalling and disturbing. I wish I found them more surprising. But I find them just as appalling,’ he said.
Ms Jenkins said she was not surprised by the stats because one in three Australian workers around the country suffer sexual harassment.
The report was commissioned nine months ago after former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, 26, alleged she was raped in Parliament House after a night out in 2019.
Scott Morrison announces the release of the 400-page report into harassment in Parliament House
Ms Jenkins made 28 recommendations including a 10-year plan to have the same number of male and female politicians and a clearer alcohol policy with set times when drinking is acceptable.
Other interviewees who spoke to Ms Jenkins said there is a ‘work hard, play hard’ culture in parliament which features regular drinking.
One said politicians have even gone on to the floor of Parliament while drunk.
Young women, particularly media advisers coming in, particularly the younger women coming in, were like fresh meat and challenges
One interviewee in the report
‘Members of Parliament have gone onto the floor of Parliament to vote under the influence of alcohol – something that would be illegal in most workplaces,’ the submission said.
The report said bullying was exacerbated by the culture of working hard.
‘Extreme expectations, long hours, small offices and office politics, and constantly proving one’s worth – was seen to foster environments in which people take their stress out on each other and bullying is accepted,’ Commissioner Jenkins wrote.
Ms Jenkins spoke to 1,723 people for the report.
Another interviewee, who no longer works in parliament, said they were in awe of the parliament when they arrived but left feeling they would never set foot in the building again.
‘And I do remember the very first time I walked in there… we got into the Member’s Hall and we stood directly sort of under the flagpole and sort of looked up.
‘You can look up through the glass ceiling and the flagpole is there. And it was like… I work in Parliament House.
‘You know, I actually teared up. I remember tearing up… It was just a pride to be able to work there because to me, that’s the ultimate place of public service. And can I tell you, when I left there… I would never, ever set foot in the place again,’ the interviewee said.
Another said they regularly heard people crying in the toilets.
‘So often I heard people crying in the toilets and felt bad for that person wondering what had happened,’ the interviewee said.
‘Sometimes it might have just been the pressure of the high stress work environment, but I never asked because I was just trying to survive myself and fight my own battles.’
Another said the pressure was so high that people would get yelled at for ‘unnecessary reasons’.
‘Because it’s so high pressure… if something goes wrong, people’s reactions are quite unreasonable. Lots of shouting and yelling for just unnecessary reasons,’ they said.
Ms Jenkins found several drivers of bullying and harassment including power imbalances, gender inequality and a lack of accountability.
Power imbalance came from an ‘inherent focus on the pursuit and exercise of power’ and a ‘misuse of power and sense of entitlement’ as well as insecure work.
Staffers can be fired by their politician bosses much more easily than workers in other industries.
Ms Jenkins said young staffers and women were most at risk.
One interviewee said: ‘It is a man’s world and you are reminded of it every day thanks to the looks up and down you get, to the representation in the parliamentary chambers, to the preferential treatment politicians give senior male journalists.’