Damning report into Parliament culture

“I was sexually harassed multiple times, sexually assaulted, bullied, and terrorised”.

Nine months ago, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins was tasked with carrying out the inquiry, after bombshell allegations of rape were raised by a Liberal staffer.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. (Jessica Hromas)

Brittany Higgins’ accusations shook the halls of power and triggered a series of investigations into poor conduct experienced and witnessed by staff and MPs.

The Jenkins report, titled ‘Set the Standard’, heard from 1723 current and former parliamentary staff, and contains statistics the Prime Minister described as “appalling”:

  • 33 per cent experienced sexual harassment, 40 per cent were women, 26 per cent men 
  • Only 11 per cent reported their experience
  • 37 per cent experienced bullying, 42 per cent were women, 35 per cent men
  • 61 per cent of those engaged in bullying were women, 35 per cent men 
  • Nine people reported being the victim of an attempted or actual sexual assault

The report heard while some spoke positively about working in Parliament, “too often we heard these workplaces are not safe environments for many people within them” and the problems are “largely driven by power imbalances, gender inequality and a lack of accountability”.

Some people shared their personal stories with the review:

“The MP sitting beside me leaned over. Also thinking he wanted to tell me something, I leaned in. He grabbed me and stuck his tongue down my throat. The others all laughed. It was revolting and humiliating”.

Another person told the inquiry:

“There are no ramifications for bad behaviour because there is no risk of MPs getting fired, or otherwise being held accountable for their actions.”

In responding to the report, the Prime Minister said Parliament House should uphold high workplace standards but has failed to do so.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australians do not want to go into lockdown.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said more needs to be done to combat sexual harassment. (Alex Ellinghausen)

“Just because this is a challenging environment…this is no excuse to normalise inappropriate, unhealthy and unprofessional behaviour,” Scott Morrison said.

Kate Jenkins made 28 recommendations for reform, including proposing a code of conduct for MP’s and staff, cracking down on alcohol use and setting targets to achieve gender balance among parliamentarians.

And from the woman who inspired it all, Brittany Higgins said she hopes the report “inspires immediate action”.

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