Australian Parliament apologises for culture of harassment, sexual misconduct

Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued an apology and said he was committed to changing the culture of the legislature. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

CANBERRA (BLOOMBERG) - The leaders of Australia's Parliament have publicly apologised for the first time for a culture of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct, almost 12 months after the country was shocked by reports of rape inside the legislature.

Following a statement delivered by both Houses of Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 8), Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued his own apology for the "exploitation, abuse, bullying and harassment" that have led to "terrible, traumatic and harrowing experiences".

Mr Morrison said he was committed to changing the culture of the legislature.

"Sorry is only the start - that is our promise to those who are here today and those who are watching across Australia," he said.

Pressure has been growing inside Australia in recent years for greater female representation in political and economic life.

In the past 12 months, Australia's political scene has experienced a #MeToo moment, comparable to that which shook American power centres from Hollywood to Wall Street.

The televised statements were watched in Parliament by a group of whistle-blowers, including Ms Brittany Higgins, who went public in early 2021 that she had been raped by a colleague while working in Parliament.

Her revelations sparked outrage across the country, and encouraged other female employees to come forward with their stories.

Ms Higgins earlier said she was not initially invited to watch the broadcast of the apology.

Leader of the Government in the Senate, Mr Simon Birmingham, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday that the tight Covid-19 restrictions had meant the public viewing areas in Parliament were currently closed but special arrangements were made.

The statement was the first recommendation of a report delivered by Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins that found bullying and sexual harassment were widespread inside Parliament.

According to the report, 63 per cent of female parliamentarians said they had faced sexual harassment, as well as 40 per cent of women working in parliamentary offices.

Australia's Parliament is sitting for the first time in 2022 this week, with the government's legislation guaranteeing religious freedoms the top of the agenda. The Bill has been criticised for not protecting the rights of Australia's LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) citizens, especially students attending religious schools.

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