The release of the report into the workplace culture in NSW Parliament was “dehumanizing” and “frustrating”, a former Liberal staffer and advocate for sexual assault survivors says.
- The report found one in three staff had experienced bullying or sexual harassment in the past five years
- Dhanya Mani says the absence of survivors at the report’s release showed MPs controlling the conversation
- The Premier says bullying, harassment, or other misconduct will not be tolerated
Dhanya Mani, who publicly aired allegations of indecent assault against a colleague in 2019, said the report had been handed down with no survivors present.
Conducted by former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, the investigation lifted the lid on a “toxic” culture in state parliament.
It found one in three staff had experienced bullying or sexual harassment in the past five years.
Three men and two women reported they had been subjected to an actual or attempted sexual assault at work.
“The optics of this report being released, showed MPs controlling the conversation with survivors completely omitted from that picture,” Ms Mani said.
“It was just something that was very dehumanizing and frustrating. If anything it feeds into these troubling power dynamics that Broderick and her team spoke about in their reports.
“Where they said the power imbalance between staff and MPs was a leading driver that underpins the causes for misconduct.”
Hearing their experiences being addressed would have been a first for many survivors, Ms Mani said, and leaders of political parties missed an opportunity to stand with them.
As the only survivor advocate representative on the parliamentary advisory group into sexual harassment, bullying and misconduct, she felt particularly aggrieved with the political leaders.
“I’m mystified that neither leader reached out to me in my capacity in that role, to consult on their statements or the way in which they wanted to approach their responses to this report being handed down,” she said.
“To feel that, even when I’m here that I’m not being seen, that my expertise isn’t really been utilized, just makes me also feel really traumatized.”
Almost 450 people working at the NSW parliament responded to a survey which found widespread bullying and everyday sexism.
The report found the human cost of the abuse was high with staff describing the impact on their mental health, their relationships and their career as “devastating”.
The offices of certain MPs and ministers were found to be well-known bullying hotspots.
Staff working there said they feared losing their jobs if they spoke out.
In a statement on Saturday, Premier Dominic Perrottet reiterated that bullying, harassment, or other misconduct will be taken seriously and “not tolerated”.
He also said that recommendations from an earlier review were being implemented.
“Including this year establishing the Respectful Workplaces Policy,” he said.
“The NSW government is also committed to working with our parliamentary colleagues to implement the recommendations of the Broderick Review and ensure the NSW Parliament is a safe and welcoming environment for everyone who works or visits.”
Opposition Leader Chris Minns said that everyone had the right to a safe workplace and that formal complaints will be “handled with priority and seriousness.”
An ABC investigation revealed that several current and former colleagues of Labor frontbencher Walt Secord had named him as having engaged in bullying behaviour.
Mr Secord has subsequently apologized, with Mr Minns adding that he had: “sought assistance on his personal development and growth.”
“Labor recognizes the enormity of the challenges in our parliamentary workplaces,” Mr Minns said.
“The introduction of Labor’s independent complaints process is an important first step. And Labor will seek to fully realize the recommendations of the Broderick report as a political party, in the parliament, and in government.”
Calls for swift action
Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said the report was “concerning” and demanded an immediate response.
“Parliaments are leading workplaces and should set the standard,” she said.
“It is important that the NSW parliament committed to undertaking this review and it’s vital that it now acts swiftly to implement the recommendations in the report.”
The Public Service Association of NSW, the union that represents many of the staff, said it was not surprised by the nature of the complaints.
“What has shocked us the most is the sheer volume of complaints from staff members working at parliament,” assistant general secretary Troy Wright said.
“Which really indicates these are not isolated incidents but it’s something in the culture of the institution that desperately needs to change.”
He said the union was now focused on making sure the recommendations are implemented.
“It is very clear there are a lot of people who work at Parliament House who currently feel unsafe.
“They feel unsafe from bullying, they feel unsafe from harassment and they feel unsafe from unwanted sexual advances.
“We need commitment from both sides of the house, from every single member of parliament that they recognize there is a cultural problem and they’re there to address it.”
‘Master-serf relationship’ needs to change
The Broderick report outlined a series of recommendations.
They included making early intervention a priority, addressing the cultural drivers of bullying and sexual misconduct and empowering staff to speak up.
The union wants to see changes to the way staff work for MPs are employed.
“The nature of the employment relationship there, particularly for staff that work for members of parliament, is very much a master-serf relationship,” Mr Wright said.
“Many of the staff feel they can not complain and there isn’t a mechanism for them to complain because their careers are very much attached to one individual and that has to change as well.”
NSW Police called on any victims of sexual assault in the NSW parliament to come forward, saying all reports of sexual violence are treated seriously and will be thoroughly investigated.
“Any victim of sexual abuse, whatever the circumstances and no matter where it occurred, is encouraged to report to police so perpetrators can be brought to justice,” a spokesperson said.