The findings of the report by Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, into the sexist culture in Parliament House are possibly even worse than most outsiders could have imagined. It seems that many staffers and particularly young women live and work in a state of apprehension and sometimes of downright fear that ordinary workplace interaction could develop into an unwanted sexual advance or even an assault. Some of the quotes from survivors collected and reported anonymously are searing and deeply demoralising.
They speak of a culture absolutely rampant in its casual disrespect for women (and men too) and its treatment of them as sexual objects. No doubt, since federal parliament is a locus of power many of the worst aspects of male power -play manifest themselves in assuming that women in their environs are fair game. 33% of people working within the structure had experienced sexual harassment and 84% of those had not reported it.
The Prime Minister proclaimed himself to be suitably shocked! But the problem is that we have heard statements of shock before, together with promises to tackle the problem. After that the politicians simply move on leaving many wounded people behind.
In the previous report chaired by Kate Jenkins, Respect@Work, most of the serious and substantive recommendations were ignored – barring some mainly formal legislative amendments. This time the report has recommended amongst other things the drafting of a new code of conduct and creation of an Independent Parliamentary Standards Committee to receive disclosures and handle informal and formal complaints.
Perhaps this time parliamentarians of all political stripes will be shamed into action. We, at Symmetra, look forward to seeing some real positive steps towards addressing a culture that does not befit the place where laws to protect Australians are debated and passed.