A concerning new survey has lifted the lid on the disturbing culture within federal political offices, with sexual harassment and assault rife.
The survey, which was conducted by the Commonwealth Public Sector Union (CPSU) last December, revealed one in eight workers had been sexually harassed or assaulted in the past year – but two-thirds were too afraid to report it in case it harmed their careers.
The survey also found more than 50 per cent had witnessed others being bullied or harassed while two-fifths had been a victim personally.
And more than three-quarters weren’t convinced the Department of Finance – which kicked off a review into sexual harassment and bullying policies last November – would support them adequately if the abuse was reported.
CPSU National Secretary Melissa Donnelly said in a statement that the union had raised the issues of sexual harassment and bullying for “the last two years with almost no action taken by the Department of Finance”.
“All workers deserve and should expect safe workplaces. Political staffers should be no different. That’s why the CPSU has been pushing for an independent review of work practices and culture and mandatory sexual harassment and bullying training for parliamentarians and senior staff,” Ms Donnelly said.
“The environments that MoPs staff work in are complex, staff often feel that reporting incidents will go nowhere and would have detrimental effects on their career prospects.
“The clunky and opaque reporting structures provide little support or confidence to staff that complaints will be followed up appropriately. The government and the department must take the workplace health and safety of all staff seriously, and our members will continue to advocate on these issues until they do.”
The results of the survey comes as the government continues to reel from the allegations made by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins that she was raped by a fellow Liberal staffer in Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’s office after work drinks in March 2019.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has since announced an independent review into parliament’s workplace culture, and the Australian Federal Police has also warned politicians to report allegations of sexual abuse immediately.
In a terse letter sent to Mr Morrison, Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw warned that delays in reporting crimes can seriously damage investigations and risk the perpetrator reoffending.
“I cannot state strongly enough the importance of timely referrals of allegations of criminal conduct,” he wrote.
“Failure to report alleged criminal behaviour in this manner, or choosing to communicate or disseminate allegations via other means, such as through the media or third parties, risks prejudicing and subsequent police investigation.”
The government is facing questions over its internal reporting policies, after it emerged Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton found out about the allegation four days before the Prime Minister said he knew.
On Tuesday it was announced that Ms Reynolds was taking immediate medical leave on the advice of her cardiologist regarding a “pre-existing condition” and would not attend parliament for the rest of the week.
Meanwhile, Labor staffers have also voiced their concerns over a new ALP policy for addressing workplace bullying and harassment.
The policy will go to the ALP National Executive on Friday, and was devised by a working group, unions and a Workplace Health and Safety Committee – but some staff say they were upset they were not given the chance to be involved.
According to The Daily Telegraph, which has seen a draft of the policy, those making a complaint are urged to provide details of their allegation in writing, including their name and the name f the person they are accusing.
But some staff told the publication they were concerned about confidentiality, with one woman telling the publication she “wouldn’t come forward in a million years” under the new policy.
CPSU is now demanding an independent review of work practices and culture and mandatory sexual harassment and bullying training for parliamentarians and senior staff.
“All workers deserve and should expect safe workplaces. Staffers should be no different,” the union said in a tweet.