opinion

Hours after the Jenkins report was handed down, Jacqui Lambie was 'growled at' in the Senate.

On Tuesday, our worst fears about Parliament House as a workplace were confirmed in a 456-page report handed down by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.

Our prime minister described the findings - which included the shocking statistic that one third of people working in Parliament House and federal politician’s offices reported being sexually harassed on the job - as "appalling and "disturbing."

In the same breath, he noted that he wished he found the statistics "more surprising." 

It's a troubling admission to contemplate, because even though we've been told time and time again about the "women problem" that exists within Australian politics, the details of that review were truly horrifying. 

Watch: Jacqui Lambie was growled at in the Senate. Post continues after video.


Video via Australian Parliament.

In the report, women spoke of being harassed, bullied and terrorised, before being threatened that their reputations would be destroyed if they spoke out. It worked. As the review pointed out, 84 per cent of victims did not report what happened to them. 

Women described Parliament House as "the most sexist place I've worked."

They spoke of being referred to as "fresh meat" and less than. 

They pointed to the preferential treatment their male colleagues received, and shared horrible stories of assault. 

One person described an incident where an MP sitting beside them "grabbed me and stuck his tongue down my throat."

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Let's not forget that the review was triggered after former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins alleged she was raped after hours in a ministerial office in March 2019.

But even as the details of that report started to make headlines across Australia yesterday, inside Parliament House, it was apparently business as usual. The toxic behaviour continued.

As Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie spoke in the Australian Senate about social housing, "dog noises" and "growling" could be heard in the room in response to her words.

"I don't think it's appropriate given what's been handed down today, to have growling and dog noises coming from this side of the chamber, while a female member in this place is on her feet. It happened. I don't know who is responsible for it, but it's inappropriate," Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.

"If we are going to change culture from the top, that means all of us," she added. 

Labor Minister Penny Wong backed her up. She heard it too.

"I would ask one of the senators at that end perhaps to do the right thing and withdraw," she suggested. "At least fess up."

Now let's take a step back here. Can you imagine any other professional environment where there would even be a conversation about someone growling at someone else in a meeting or workplace debate? 

It becomes even more absurd when you consider it came from within a group of the most powerful people in this country - the ones in charge of balancing and debating the decisions that dictate our futures. 

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In the House of Representatives that very same day, Speaker Andrew Wallace mentioned Kate Jenkins' review findings and the focus on respect. 

He had to pause, because someone laughed. 

Laughed. 

It gives an insight into how untouchable this group of powerful people think they are. They've remained invincible in their 'Canberra bubble' for so long, that even a report so damning and disturbing as the one handed down by Jenkins can't force them to hold their tongues for even one day. 

As Grace Tame pointed out, 15 minutes after the review was released, Scott Morrison was already claiming that Parliament House is a "safer workplace" than when Brittany [Higgins] was there. 

"In any event, an environment of such high toxicity couldn’t have possibly changed in less than a year. Not only have 51 per cent of staff experienced bullying, harassment or threatened or actual sexual assault, the review confirmed offenders are often promoted or rewarded. It’s endemic," she wrote on Twitter.

There are 28 recommendations for change laid out in Jenkins' report. 

They include:

  • A new code of conduct for parliamentarians and their staff, addressing current legal requirements that prohibit bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault and workplace discrimination.
  • The establishment of a new Office of Parliamentarian Staffing and Culture to provide centralised human resources support.
  • The creation of an Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission. And new targets to achieve gender balance.

There're decades of ingrained misogyny to undo, and to suggest that we're even close to closing that gap is an offensively naïve thing to hear from the PM on the very day we're hearing the true gravity of the problem at hand. 

Until those recommendations are enforced in their entirety, we've got a long, long way to go. 

Growling while a female senator tries to have her say only reiterates that point. 

You can keep up to date with Gemma Bath's articles here, or follow her on Instagram, @gembath.

Feature Image: Getty/Tracey Nearmy/Getty/Humanrights.com.au/Mamamia.

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