Content warning: This article discusses sexual assault in a way that may be distressing to some readers.
On Tuesday, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins launched the report Set The Standard, which found that one in three employees currently in CPWs (Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces) have personally experienced sexual harassment while working there.
The report has been more than seven months in the making after the Human Rights Commission was asked by the Federal Government back in March to undertake the Review of Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces. Since then, Jenkins and her team have spoken to over 1,700 people and 30 collective organisations to gain a better understanding of the workplace culture within parliamentary workplaces.
Jenkins said the result of 935 survey responses, 490 interviews, 302 written submissions and 11 focus groups exposed the lack of safety many Aussies feel while working in parliament.
The report found thirty-three per cent of people who are currently in CPWs have personally experienced sexual harassment in a CPW and that women experience sexual harassment (40%) and bullying (42%) at a higher rate than men. Bullying is also rife, with 78% of people who experienced bullying in CPWs having been bullied by someone more senior.
“Over half (51%) of all people currently in Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces (CPWs) have experienced at least one incident of bullying, sexual harassment or actual or attempted sexual assault in a CPW. That is unacceptably high," said Jenkins in an official statement.
“A lack of clear standards of conduct, limited accountability and power imbalances, combine with the high-intensity, high stakes nature of the work, the pursuit of political power and advantage, the frequent blurring of personal and professional life and the intense loyalty to political parties to create specific risk factors unique to this workplace.”
The Human Rights Commission has put forward 28 recommendations to guide parliamentary workplaces in improving their culture to the standards expected of all Australian workplaces. The recommendations sit under a framework underpinned by five key principles:
1. Leadership – Strengthening institutional and individual leadership to ensure a safe and respectful work environment.
2. Diversity, equality and inclusion – Including targets to increase gender equality, as well as representation of First Nations people, people from CALD backgrounds, people with disability, and LGBTQI+ people in parliamentary workplaces.
3. Systems to support performance – Establishing a centralised Office for Staffing and Culture to support parliamentarians and their staff. This office will have the ability to set and enforce standardised HR policies and processes.
4. Standards, reporting and accountability – Establishing an Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission to provide safe and supported reporting options. It will also oversee and enforce Codes of Conduct to hold people to account for misconduct through sanctions.
5. Safety and wellbeing – Including developing and implementing consistent and comprehensive alcohol policies across CWPs with a view to restricting availability in line with work health and safety obligations, and the principle of harm minimisation.
Former The Bachelor contestant Alisha Aitken-Radburn, who worked as a political advancer (a staffer who ensures campaigns roll out without a hitch) for former Labor leader Bill Shorten's 2016 election campaign, recently spoke to Refinery29 Australia about being one of the many people who spoke to the commission as part of the review.
"When I was bombarded with all this media, it makes you reflect on your own experiences and some upsetting thoughts of your own experience.", Aitken-Radburn says.
On Tuesday Prime Minister Scott Morrison released the report, thanking those who contributed to the review, including Brittany Higgins who went public in February with allegations she was allegedly raped by a colleague at Parliament House.
"Her voice has spoken for many, as this report shows," he said, adding he found it "appalling" and "disturbing" to hear 33% reporting sexual harassment.
Higgins said this is now an opportunity for the government to actually action the recommendations that have been put forward.
"I want to thank the many brave people who shared their stories which contributed to this review," she said. "I hope all sides of politics not only commit to but implement these recommendations in full."
If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual or domestic violence and is in need of support, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), the National Sexual Assault Domestic Family Violence Service