Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who garnered international attention by condemning sexism and harassment against her during her time as the country’s leader, says politicians should be held under a code of conduct.
Ms Gillard has urged parliament to support the findings of an investigation by the sex discrimination commissioner into the parliamentary workplace, which was launched after former Liberal employee Brittany Higgins came out with a rape allegation.
Commissioner Kate Jenkins took submissions from people working in Parliament House, government agencies, departments or election offices, finding that a third had experienced some form of sexual harassment while at work.
Julia Gillard, who faced sexism and abuse from politicians, the media and the public during her time as prime minister, said parliament could no longer function as it used to.
“It is time to change our federal parliament forever,” Ms Gillard said.
“We need a code of conduct and an efficient way to receive and process complaints. Jenkins Reviews gives us that.”
Ms Gillard’s endorsement of a code of conduct highlights only one of the recommendations Ms Jenkins made to make parliament a safer place for workers.
So what else did the review recommend? And what has been the reaction?
Review started with disastrous allegation
Ms Jenkins’ parliamentary workplace investigation began after Ms Higgins went public with an allegation of rape by her colleague in Parliament House.
Ms Jenkins thanked Ms Higgins for being the catalyst behind the review and for her courage to share her story.
“The impact of his bravery is immeasurable,” she said.
The seven-month-long investigation ordered by Prime Minister Scott Morrison was extensive, with more than 1,700 people taking part in one form or another.
About 500 people were interviewed, and there were hundreds of written presentations.
This included all kinds of people working in Parliament House, government agencies, departments and election offices; Everyone from staff, cleaners and caterers to Australian Federal Police officers.
Activists detail harassment by politicians
The findings were alarming, and the report included several anonymous accounts of sexual harassment and bullying within parliamentary offices.
Of those currently working in Commonwealth Parliamentary workplaces, 37 percent have experienced some form of bullying while working there.
One person interviewed was quoted as saying: “Often, at least like every week, the advice was to go to the toilet and cry so that no one can see you, because that’s how it is here.”
The investigation also found that one in three persons had experienced some form of sexual harassment while working there.
“Aspiring male politicians who thought nothing of, in one case, picking you up, kissing you on the lips, lifting you up, touching you, patting the bottom, making comments about appearance, you know, normal… It is,” one person said in the interview.
More than half have experienced at least one incident of bullying, sexual harassment or actual or attempted sexual assault in the Commonwealth Parliamentary workplace.
Unsurprisingly, the review indicated that people who bullied or sexually harassed people in those workplaces were primarily in a more powerful position than the person who experienced the behavior.
Suicide attempt due to torture, marriage broke up
The review also looked at the wider impact of this behavior, with participants taking into account their experiences affecting their mental and physical health, self-confidence and future career prospects.
One person told the inquiry about the effect on people they knew:
“One tried to commit suicide, the other admitted himself to a mental facility. I know three women … who are still seeing psychologists. One had a broken marriage, and one was under the direct influence of As a result he was completely displaced along with his children. That MP.”
Others said they felt their only options were to tolerate or abandon the misconduct, rather than hoping that the misconduct could be addressed.
Kate Jenkins said abuse of power was one of the primary drivers of bullying, sexual assault and sexual assault.
“In part, I was surprised by how quickly young workers, who probably feel genuinely positive and enthusiastic and privileged to work there, become in an environment where bullying and harassment become commonplace. Ms Jenkins said.
Code of Conduct, recommended target for greater diversity
There are 28 recommendations to address the serious issues that have emerged in the report.
These include a code of conduct for MPs and staff to be implemented by a newly independent Parliamentary Standards Commission.
It also calls for major structural changes, recommends goals to bring more women into parliament, and increase First Nations people’s representation of culturally and linguistically diverse Australians and LGBTIQ+ people.
Ms Jenkins called on the government to implement all the recommendations rather than pick and choose.
“Recommendations are a package, they are mutually robust and complementary and therefore should not be cherry-picked for implementation.”
Morrison says findings ‘disturbing’ as politicians, advocates react
Ms. Higgins, the woman who sparked the investigation – and a wider movement – joined forces with Ms. Jenkins and Ms. Gillard to call for the full implementation of the recommendations from all sides of politics.
“I want to thank the many brave people who shared their stories that contributed to this review,” she said.
Independent MP Helen Haines also supported those calls, saying it was important for the report to focus on culture and leadership, as well as structural and systemic changes.
“The figures and personal experience in this report are shocking, but unfortunately for many people in the building reading these things will not come as a surprise, they know they are true,” said Dr Haynes.
Australian of the Year Grace Tem said the review had exposed Parliament’s “ecosystem of abuse”.
“Until every recommendation is implemented and real changes are made, sadly all this will be a more dramatic announcement,” Ms Tem tweeted.
Federal Labor seized on the findings, with opposition leader Anthony Albanese using Question Time to ask Prime Minister Scott Morrison whether he agreed that “everyone working in this building, including employees, should have a safe workplace.” deserves”.
“Yes, Mr President, of course we do,” replied Mr. Morrison.
In a news conference minutes after the report became public, Mr Morrison said a stressful workplace was no excuse for bad behavior.
“Like anyone who has worked in this building, the figures presented to me are certainly frightening and disturbing,” he said.
“I wish I could find them more amazing. But I find them equally frightening. And so I think the actions that are recommended cover all the areas that enable us to move forward.”
Women’s Minister Maris Payne said the report made it clear that there was more work to be done.
Senator Payne said, “It is disheartening if one comes here inspired, only to become, disillusioned only because of the treatment others experience.”
Jenkins says ‘change is about to happen’, but what happens next?
The government will now consider its response to the review, and as part of that, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham and Special State Minister Ben Morton will begin consultations with the opposition, smaller parties and crossbenchers.
Mr. Morrison has already instructed his department to provide every necessary resource and support necessary to do so.
And in the interim, the government will continue existing support, such as an independent complaints mechanism, 24-hour help line and workplace safety training.
“These important endorsements will continue and will be implemented as long as Parliament responds to these recommendations,” Morrison said.
Ms Jenkins is confident that ultimately, the outcome will be positive.
“I truly believe that change will happen, not only because we have delivered a truly useful, insightful and evidence-based report, but also because the wider Australian community as a whole, including other workplaces, expects more,” she said. .
“There’s a huge momentum for change across the board and there’s no question, you know, the report called ‘Set the Standard,’ that we’ve made recommendations that say what you really need to do for other workplaces.” The prescribed standards must be met.
“For all those reasons, I think this is the moment where change is going to happen.”