#AceNewsReport – Mar.02: Allegations outlined in the report by the Acting Equal Opportunity Commissioner Emily Strickland include sexually suggestive comments, indecent exposure and physical assault:
‘Equal Opportunity Commissioner report reveals sexual harassment allegations in SA Parliament after a review of parliamentary behaviour was ordered last year, after Liberal MP Sam Duluk was outed for inappropriate behaviour at a Christmas Party in Parliament House: ‘An MP Code of Conduct has been recommended by successive ICAC Commissioners, but the proposal has been repeatedly rejected by the State Government, with Premier Steven Marshall reconfirming his opposition to a code of conduct as recently as last week’
updated 3h ago
He apologised, but was later banished from the Liberal Party, when he was charged with assaulting SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros.
The Equal Opportunity Commission surveyed parliamentary staff, receiving a response from about a quarter of them.
“27.1 per cent of survey respondents reported they had experienced sexual harassment in the parliamentary workplace,” the report stated.
“Six interview participants and two participants who made written submissions described being victims of sexual harassment in the last five years, and all of those alleged incidents involved either Members of Parliament or staff of Members of Parliament as perpetrators.”
One interview participant recalled an experience with an unnamed person.
“You don’t want to be sitting next to him when he has had some drinks,” the participant said.
“And I learnt that one, never again … he put his hand up my skirt, really far up my skirt.”
Another said: “The culture is rotten … the culture says if you want to advance you have to just put up with behaviour that wouldn’t be tolerated anywhere else.”
Another responded said they had worked in “many other workplaces prior to Parliament” and described it as “the worst”.
“I have seen staff be directly harassed, physically assaulted, and treated like ‘property’,” they said.
Some reported a fear of repercussions and a culture where victims were blamed and not believed.
“[They] treated me like I was to blame for everything that had happened … in fact, it was worse than that: they just ignored me, and many of them continue to do so today,” one respondent said.
Another was told their sexual harassment had occurred because they were “too polite”.
The Acting Commissioner noted that while sexual harassment was overwhelmingly experienced by women and perpetrated by men, the review heard an historic example from one male interview participant.
“If I got in the lift with a certain female MP, I would plant my backside up against the wall of the lift so that I didn’t get my backside pinched,” he said.
Tabling the report in Parliament, the Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said the recommendations would be carefully considered.
“Everyone has a right to be safe and to be treated with respect in their workplace, whether it’s in the Parliament or a building site,” she said.
“Allegations in recent weeks in Canberra have been profoundly disturbing. Allegations of what has occurred in this Parliament have been distressing to many.
“While this review and the Government’s response to this review cannot traverse these allegations, what we as a Government and a Parliament can do is put in place measures to ensure the South Australian Parliament is a safer workplace for everyone.”
‘Politics prioritised over their welfare’
The review found power dynamics, historical convention, a lack of training and accountability for MPs were all factors in driving harassment.
Almost 80 per cent of respondents who reported experiencing sexual harassment did not report it.
The report found complaints made against MPs were handled particularly poorly.
She said where complaints were made, they were marred by poor communication, a lack of procedural fairness, and a lack of support for those who report.
“Some reported feeling like politics was prioritised over their welfare,” she said.
Ms Strickland said the findings were not unique to the South Australian Parliament, with international reports indicating that harassing behaviours were common in parliaments in the United Kingdom, Canada, the USA and Europe.
She said the cultures of those parliaments enabled the prevalence of problematic behaviours but they can and should “lead change” in the area.
The Acting Commissioner has made 16 recommendations to address the problems including training for MPs and staff, a new centralised parliamentary human resources division, and a code of conduct for MPs.
Ms Strickland also called on both houses to review standing orders to allow breast and bottle feeding in the chamber.
Bullying reported to ICAC
Participants reported bullying both by and towards both staff and MPs.
Four participants reported bullying by female MPs.
“It’s a place where that kind of behaviour isn’t necessarily top down, it’s across to cross, it’s bottom up as well. There’s a lot of dysfunctional working relationships,” one interview participant stated.
The review stated that six matters alleging harassment or bullying had been reported to the Office for Public Integrity in 2019 and 2020.
Three of those matters were not pursued by the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Ann Vanstone, at least in part, because there was no code of conduct for MPs.
#AceNewsDesk report ………Published: Mar.02: 2021:
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