Sex Discrimination in Australian Federal Parliament

A Report of the Australian Human Rights Commission

By Syed Atiq ul Hassan, Sydney

Syed Atiq ul Hassan

On the 5th of March 2021, the Australian Government with the support of opposition and crossbenches in the Australian federal parliament had requested the Australian Human Rights Commission to conduct an independent review of the parliamentary workplace culture and submit a report with recommendations. This action was taken aftermath of several complaints by the staff of the federal parliament over the period. There were complaints of bullying, sexual harassment, and sexual assault at federal parliamentary workplaces.

The Independent Review team did a remarkable job over seven months by deeply engaging with current and former staff and parliamentarians from across all parliamentary workplaces. Through interviews, submissions, and surveys, they engaged over 1700 former and current staff volunteers. They investigated the culture and behaviour of the federal parliamentary workplaces and found some shocking stories of the people who worked at the federal parliamentary workplaces.

On the 30th November 2021, Ms. Kate Jenkins, the Commissioner of the Australian Human Rights Commission

PM Morrison on Jenkins Report

launched a comprehensive report including 28 recommendations. The recommendations are designed to assist the parliament in implementing best practices for a harassment-free and fearless work environment, especially for female staff members.

According to Kate Jenkins, who presented the report, 51% of all Commonwealth (Federal) parliamentary workers have experienced bullying, sexual harassment, or actual or attempted sexual assault. That is unacceptably high.

In this regard, it is important to remember that Parliamentary workplaces do not all share a similar workplace culture. There are 227 electorate offices across the country that have hundreds of office workers and most of these offices have their own workplace culture.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressing the federal parliament last Tuesday (30 November) welcomed the Independent Review Report into Federal Parliamentary Workplaces. He thanked Ms. Kate Jenkins, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, for her and her team’s excellent work compiling the most needed review report with valuable recommendations.

Morrison said the review is an insightful one that has a series of findings and recommendations. The Government, Opposition, minor parties and crossbenchers must all carefully consider and respond to the serious issues facing MPs, ministers, and administration. He said every single Australian has a right to feel and to be safe at work. “the report highlights that people, particularly women, in Parliamentary workplaces have experienced bullying, sexual harassment, and sexual assault”.

In terms of sexual harassment and bullying, Australian parliamentary offices are not unique. In civilized countries where workers have freedom of expression, fair and equal opportunities for all, incidents of sexual harassment, sex scandals, and illicit relations between politicians, ministers, and legislators with their staff members do occur and make national and international headlines.

The current Deputy Prime Minister of a coalition party, National, resigned from his position in 2018 after falling out with a former staffer who is now his partner.

Former US President Bill Clinton was found in a sex scandal in 1998 at the White House involving a 22-year-old intern named Monica Lewinsky. Bill Clinton ended a televised speech in late January 1998 with the statement that he did not have sexual relations with Lewinsky. Upon further investigation, he was charged with perjury, leading to Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998. In fact, as part of history, there are many stories of top political leaders and key heads of state all over the world.

The conditions of sexual harassment in 3rd world countries are terrible. Female sectaries and staff at parliament, ministerial, and administrative workplaces are often harassed and forced to have sex relations with politicians, ministers, and parliamentarians. To save jobs female workers decide to opt for silence and bow down against the desires of their bosses. In many Asian, African, and South American countries these practices are common due to autocratic and oppressive systems.

Helpless, impotent, and weak workers surrender quietly against the wishes of their vicious bosses just to save their jobs. They sacrifice their dignity, nobility, pride, and prestige for their job security. Many poor countries have this culture and evil practices due to tyrannical systems in government and the private sector. In most underdeveloped, undemocratic, and dictatorial countries, there are laws against bullying and sexual harassment, but these laws are not effective due to bigotry, prejudiced and corrupt systems.

I believe sexual abuse, sexual harassment, bullying, and forcibly having sex with subordinates and staff at the workplace is slavery and a crime against humanity. Every country should follow Australia’s lead and review their current workplace policies and practices by holding a review of their workplace culture and human rights commissions.

This issue of sex discrimination and abuse in the workplace needs to be addressed and periodically reviewed at the United Nations level. All member nations must be made responsible for reviewing their laws to make sure their workplaces are safe and clean.

(The writer, Syed Atiq ul Hassan, is a Sydney-based journalist, writer, editor Tribune International & community representative. His email is and his mobile is +61 479 143 628).

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