26 September 2023

Parliament review finds workplace toxic

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Bullying, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct are significant issues across Parliamentary workplaces in NSW, according to an independent investigation into workplace culture at Parliament House.

In her report Leading for Change: Independent Review of Bullying, Sexual Harassment and Sexual Misconduct in NSW Parliamentary Workplaces 2022, former Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick found bullying in Parliamentary workplaces to be systemic and multi-directional.

“Those working in Parliamentary workplaces have low confidence in structural or cultural protections to prevent bullying or to stop it once it is occurring,” Ms Broderick said.

“Sexual harassment and everyday sexism occur at unacceptable rates, with prevalence of experiences particularly high for women, people who identified as having a diverse sexuality and younger people (24-35 years old),” she said.

“Both women and men reported experiences of actual or attempted sexual assault, and prevalence was highest among people who identified as having a diverse sexuality.”

Ms Broderick said the impact of these behaviours was heightened for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

She said some Parliamentary offices were described as “well-known hotspots”, characterised by high rates of staff turnover related to harmful behaviours.

“The human cost of these behaviours is high,” the former Commissioner said.

“Although resilient and committed to their roles, many Review participants described the impact of these behaviours on their mental health, their wellbeing, their relationships, and their career as ‘devastating’.”

She said key drivers of harmful behaviours included the unequal distribution of power between parliamentarians and staff; the underrepresentation of women and diverse cohorts in formal decision-making roles; the unequal distribution of accountability and inconsistent behavioural expectations; and the highly pressured and political nature of the working environment.

Ms Broderick proposed a six-step Framework for Action including the prevention and early intervention of a leadership priority; addressing factors contributing to bullying, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct; creating a policy environment; encouraging everyone to speak up; create a safe reporting environment; and implementing transparent monitoring.

“The range of roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of people working within Parliament House means that change is a particularly complex exercise, with no central source of authority or leadership that can drive reform on its own,” she said.

“Rather, this must be done collaboratively, in ways that establish institutional, as well as individual, leadership which sets the tone for safe and inclusive workplaces.”

Responding to the Report, Premier Dominic Perrottet said Government would offer its full support to the Review’s recommendations.

Ms Broderick’s 148-page Review report can be accessed at this PS News link.

Support for people impacted by the issues discussed in this article is available from 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 and Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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