Gender Discrimination Commissioner Finds Gender Inequality Main Driver of Toxic Culture in Federal Parliament | australian politics

Australian Gender Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins recommended a major overhaul of the toxic culture of the Federal Parliament in the workplace after delivering her landmark report that one in three staff questioned had experienced sexual harassment .

The Jenkins Inquiry into the Work Culture in Parliament was triggered after former Liberal employee Brittany Higgins alleged she was raped after hours in a ministerial office in March 2019. Higgins’ allegations are the subject of separate criminal proceedings.

The review found that gender inequality in the political ecosystem was a key driver of intimidation, sexual harassment and sexual assault in Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces. He found that power imbalances and the abuse of power were “one of the main drivers of misconduct.”

Among key insights from a survey conducted to inform the review, 37% of respondents in parliamentary workplaces had personally experienced harassment and 33% of people had personally experienced sexual harassment, with 1% experiencing assault actual or attempted sexuality. 84% of those victims of sexual harassment did not seek support or advice.

The report calls for a new code of conduct for parliamentarians and their staff as part of the standardization of employment conventions. He says the code should meet current legal requirements that prohibit bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault and discrimination in the workplace.

As part of structural reforms, Jenkins recommended the creation of a new Office of Parliamentary Staffing and Culture to provide centralized human resource support, including policy development, training, advice, support and education.

He also recommended the creation of an independent Parliamentary Standards Commission “to ensure that there are independent and consistent responses to reports and complaints of bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault” in the workplace. parliamentarians.

The commission would operate with delegated powers and “operate a fair, independent, confidential and transparent system for receiving disclosures, handling informal and formal complaints”.

The report also recommends new goals for achieving gender balance among parliamentarians “as part of a 10-year strategy designed to advance gender equality, diversity and inclusion” – as well as strengthened protections. for staff against arbitrary dismissals, including through amendments to the Members of Parliament’s Staff Act – the legislation under which political staff members are employed.

As part of a recommended culture change, Jenkins urged Speakers to review Parliament’s Rules of Procedure with a view to eliminating sexist or otherwise exclusive and discriminatory language, behavior and practices, and improving safety and respect. in parliamentary chambers.

She said it was time to revisit the parliamentary sittings schedule and business agenda in order to improve “the well-being, balance and flexibility of parliamentarians and workers in parliamentary workplaces. of the Commonwealth “.

As part of the overhaul of what Jenkins called a ‘work hard, play hard’ culture, she recommended that parliament develop and implement cohesive and comprehensive workplace alcohol policies. Commonwealth parliamentarians “with a view to restricting availability in accordance with occupational health and safety obligations, and the principle of minimization of damage”.

The review thus revealed an entrenched gender imbalance in parliamentary workplaces and a culture that allows abuse of power, Jenkins said parliament lacks a culture of accountability.

She said those interviewed for the review said that people who engage in misconduct are very often rewarded. Jenkins said there were particular difficulties in sanctioning parliamentarians who commit misconduct “because they have no employer”.

“Throughout the review, the committee heard about a lack of diversity in parliamentary offices in the Commonwealth, the privilege of certain groups of people and the marginalization and exclusion of others,” the report said. report.

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“Certain groups of marginalized people … have experienced greater vulnerability to misconduct, as well as specific and unique experiences of discrimination, bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault.”

The Gender Discrimination Commissioner recommended that the reform process begin with a declaration of recognition to “recognize the damage caused by intimidation, sexual harassment and sexual assault in Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces”.

Higgins, who was briefed by Jenkins ahead of the report’s public release on Tuesday, released a brief statement on Tuesday. “I want to thank the many courageous people who shared their stories and contributed to this review,” said the former staff member.

“I hope that all parties in politics not only engage, but fully implement these recommendations.”

Scott Morrison said the recommendations would be the responsibility of everyone in Parliament, not just the Coalition. Morrison said the statistics uncovered by the review were “appalling and disturbing.”

But he admitted he was not shocked. “I would have liked to find them more surprising,” said the Prime Minister.

Jenkins told reporters that the structural and cultural overhaul recommendations were designed “to bring parliamentary workplaces up to the standards expected of all modern Australian workplaces and to help all parts of parliament function in the future. better”.

Jenkins was thwarted by the Morrison government in a separate process recommending the imposition of a positive duty on employers to eradicate sexual harassment. The new review recommends the establishment of an independent external follow-up review to review the implementation of the recommendations made in this report “within 18 months of its tabling in parliament”.

When asked if she was confident the recommendations would be acted upon, Jenkins said, “I’m also really confident that this work reflects the voices of the people who work on it, including the 147 current and former parliamentarians who have participated – there is therefore a very good ground for this to be implemented ”.

“I will look forward to the timely response,” she said.

The man accused of raping Higgins in parliament in March 2019 will be tried in June. Bruce Lehrmann pleads not guilty to the prosecution and denies that any form of sexual activity took place.

Earlier this month, the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court extended Lehrmann’s bail until a criminal conference in February and set a tentative date of June 6 for a trial that is expected to last three to four weeks. .


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