'The dirty habits of our senators revealed'
A current serving Senator has a nickname in Parliament House which speaks to the number of women he ogles, another Senator has actively tried to pick off any LGBTIQ+ candidates, and a third would stare at my colleague's breasts in every single meeting.
While harassment in one party is currently front of mind, each of the above examples were from different parties - Liberal, Labor and Crossbench.
In all of those situations, you feel powerless to do anything about it.
With the creepy Senator who would eye off my female colleague, we made sure she was never alone during meetings.
For the Senator who has spent years digging dirt on LGBTI members of her party, a promotion was in order, so who do you report the actions to? Will they care if you do?
For the Senator whose nickname refers to his regular actions towards women, who do you report that to? The party will try to cover it up, evidence is scant and hard to come by, and the victim never believed.
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I do not know if it is because I am a gay guy that I am more uncomfortable with the near endless mansplaining and breast watching which occurs in Parliaments around Australia.
All members like to say they represent "the people" but neither Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Labour leader Anthony Albanese or Greens leader Adam Bandt have given any one of the hundreds of current and former staffers a process they can rely upon.
Everybody knows you don't get promotions or Parliamentary seats if you complain, everybody knows you can't speak out against the Party without career and future consequences.
I wrote a piece for news.com.au in 2019 about sexism in politics, so the recent breaking story from news.com.au about an alleged sexual assault of staffer Brittany Higgins in a minister's office didn't surprise me.
I started off my article in 2019 with another Liberal Party sexual assault (groundhog day and short memories anyone?), where when someone you work with restrains you and removes your underwear, in any normal job, when reported to management, your actions would preclude you from that industry for life.
Yet a few months down the track the man who allegedly sexually assaulted a woman became "eligible" for a potential promotion, and was being considered for preselection for the Liberal Party.
When this is backed up by senior Liberals saying "for every woman that comes forward with a complaint is probably representing at least five more" you know something is broken.
Whether it is current and former Leaders of the Parties regularly making women scapegoats for mistakes, but seemingly equally culpable men spared, through to women being "handed" the leadership in the most difficult and trying times, only to lose elections they had no hope of winning - harassment is endemic in politics.
Also, have you seen how male politicians respond to female journalists compared to male ones?
Let's see how the parties currently manage harassment allegations for parliamentary staffers.
Bullying and harassment occurs, they are reported to Chief of Staff, Leaders office or Minister. Next steps? In an example I am aware of, the complaint was put in the same room as the accused with no third-party present, and a Parliamentarian said (and I quote): "I'd advise against reporting this, because I have seen how this plays out, and it doesn't end well for you. I am sorry I can't help".
Another staffer, so worried they would get fired for calling out a tirade of victim blaming made by a current sitting Minister, had stomach cramps from the stress. The advice given in those circumstances? "Your situation is f*cked, and you don't have a union heavy to protect you".
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One need only look to the Comcare claims made in Parliamentary offices to see how systemic the issue is - chairs thrown at staff do not even make it in being a claim these days (and yes, I know the MP who did that also).
I have personally raised a sexism allegation against a sitting MP, which was confirmed by an internal Labor Party investigation, only to be personally bought before the disputes committee of the Labor Party for "disloyalty" and "bringing the party into disrepute" (for calling out sexism against a sitting MP).
If political parties allow sexism to take hold, and the consequences are worse for the person reporting than the perpetrator, is it any wonder sexual harassment is occurring at endemic levels across politics? (Oh, the MP I mentioned above got away with a simple written apology to the victim, not made public of course.)
If every time you raise the issue, or talk about it, the automatic response is to try and silence the victim or people who saw the behaviour, or "manage the situation", as opposed to stopping the behaviour this outcome is inevitable.
Tony Abbott said former candidate Fiona Scott had "sex appeal" during the Lindsay campaign, which then clouded her entire time in office, meaning everywhere she went the "sex appeal" comment remained.
And on the Labor side of the fence, it is great that Mr Albanese called on Senator Linda Reynolds to resign over the Brittany Higgins matter, but how about he assist in setting up a genuine whistleblower policy, with real consequences for poor behaviour in the Labor Party first? Because I can assure you, sexual harassment is a tri-partisan issue.
Neil Pharaoh is the former National Co-Convenor of Rainbow Labor, and former Labor Candidate for Prahran.
Originally published as The dirty habits of Senators revealed