Inquiry finds widespread sexism in Australian parliament

One in three Australian parliamentarians have experienced sexual harassment, a government-backed report has found.

A seven-month investigation has found a widespread sexist culture in in Australia's parliament [File: Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images]

A high-profile inquiry into sexual harassment and bullying in Australia’s parliament has found “sexist culture” to be widespread.

The government-backed report – released on Tuesday following a seven-month investigation – said one in three people currently working at the parliament “have experienced some form of sexual harassment while working there”.

Including 63 percent of the country’s female parliamentarians.

“Aspiring male politicians who thought nothing of, in one case, picking you up, kissing you on the lips, lifting you up, touching you, pats on the bottom, comments about appearance, you know, the usual… the culture allowed it,” said one of the report’s 1,700 interviewees.

The report made 28 recommendations, including a formal statement of acknowledgement by political leaders, targets to increase gender diversity and “a proactive focus on safety and wellbeing”.

The inquiry was launched amid widespread outrage at the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins, a parliamentary staffer, inside a minister’s office after a night out with conservative Liberal Party colleagues in 2019.

Her allegations, which are still before the court, were followed by a string of allegations of rape and sexual harassment against politicians and their staffers that sparked nationwide demonstrations and demands for reform.

Higgins on Tuesday welcomed the report and thanked “the many brave people who shared their stories which contributed to this review”.

“I hope all sides of politics not only commit to but implement these recommendations in full,” she said in a statement sent via the Australian National University, where she is now a visiting fellow.

Green Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young described the report as a “damning expose of the sexist culture and harassment in politics”.

“The statistics and comments are shocking, but for many women here they are not surprising and ring true to our own experiences,” she said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has sought to defend his government’s actions in working to improve gender equality but accepted there was broad dissatisfaction with his handling of the allegations of mistreatment of women in politics.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies