Bullying and sexual harassment are part of everyday life in Australia’s Parliament. Now politicians promise improvement. Yet again.
“I wish I was surprised,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The Australian Prime Minister received a report on bullying and harassment in Parliament. It confirmed what many have claimed, namely that Australian politics has not kept up with the times.
The report from Australia’s Human Rights Commission shakes. It was carried out by Gender Equality Ombud Kate Jenkins. She received answers from 935 of the 4,000 who were asked to participate in the survey. The respondents are politicians and their employees, advisers and other staff.
The report’s revelations are so strong that SBS News warns that the content of the article about it may seem offensive.
Exactly one third of the respondents answered “yes” when asked if they had been sexually harassed. Women are overrepresented among the victims. 40 percent of women working in parliament experience such harassment.
Nine people have experienced more than harassment, they were simply physically attacked.
Tongue into mouth
In the recent report, female counselors talk about how older men treat them. It is said that the man sitting next to her at a meeting suddenly embraced her and stuck his tongue into her mouth.
Everyone else around the table laughed.
Several women talk about slaps on the ass, kisses in the elevator and other unwanted body contact.
Claims that she was raped at a government office
The survey was launched in February. It happened after Brittany Higgins told that a colleague raped her. She was an adviser to the Secretary of Defense. The same was the alleged perpetrator. The rape allegedly took place inside the Minister of Defense’s office.
Higgins said she had been warned against reporting the case. The Secretary of Defense later had to apologize for calling Higgins “a stupid cow.”
The rape charge is still being investigated.
Higgins sounded the alarm, and it was punished. As many as 84 per cent of those who are harassed or bullied answer that they have not notified or asked for help.
Those employed in Parliament are not protected by the laws governing other Australian workers. Elected representatives can dismiss their advisers as they wish.
This makes employees extra vulnerable if they come into conflict with their boss.
Nevertheless, female elected representatives are even more vulnerable. 63 percent of them say they have experienced sexual harassment.
Won with a rough tone
In Norway, the President of the Storting clubs as soon as a representative makes statements that approach what is called “unparliamentary expressions”.
The Australian Parliament has a form of debate that is more reminiscent of the British. It is common for the other party to make a call and try to unbalance the speaker.
But there are limits there as well. Last Friday, a senator had to apologize. She interrupted a counter-debater by shouting: “At least I keep my legs together.”
A few days earlier, another politician denied that he had made barking and growling noises when a female colleague spoke. He claimed that it was the mouthpiece that made the sounds can be perceived as such.
Gender Equality Ombud Kate Jenkins writes that a lot needs to be done – and quickly. She is not only concerned about the individuals who are being abused. The culture of the parliament threatens the voters’ trust in the entire institution.
Therefore, she wants the personnel treatment to be professionalized and for employees to have a safer environment.
But something must also happen with the form of dealing. For example, there should be stricter rules for alcohol drinking, she believes.
Brittany Higgins thanked all the former colleagues who have spoken in the report. She hopes that all recommendations are followed up.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirms that Parliament must introduce new and stricter rules.