WELLINGTON (AFP) - The lawmaker in charge of New Zealand's Parliament said he fears that a rapist is stalking the building's corridors, after an inquiry exposed the toxic work culture that staffers endure.
Speaker Trevor Mallard on Wednesday (May 22) said he was disturbed by the findings of the independent inquiry, which said bullying, harassment and other abusive conduct were rife in the parliamentary precincts.
The most serious accusations concerned three sexual assault allegations against an unnamed man, which the inquiry's report said "appeared to be part of a multi-year pattern of predatory behaviour".
Mr Mallard, who is responsible for administering Parliament, said such behaviour amounted to rape.
"We're talking about serious sexual assault. Well, for me, that's rape," he told Radio New Zealand, saying he did not know the identity of the alleged perpetrator or victims.
He added: "Reading the report carefully, I get the sense that the man is still on the premises."
Mr Mallard described the situation as "intolerable", but said he could not go to the police as all submissions to the inquiry were made on the basis that they would be kept strictly confidential.
He said he hoped the women involved would contact the police directly and receive support from rape counselling services.
There are 120 MPs in the New Zealand Parliament, known as The Beehive, but the number of people working in the complex swells to the thousands when advisers, bureaucrats, media and security are taken into account.
The five-month inquiry by workplace consultant Debbie Francis was called after allegations were made against lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, including one about a minister physically attacking a press secretary, whom she blamed for missing an appointment.
Ms Francis found that Parliament was a high-pressure, insular environment where unacceptable conduct was too often tolerated.
In a 120-page report released on Tuesday, she said there was a reluctance to hold MPs accountable over bullying behaviour, even though some were regarded by staff as serial offenders.
"The fundamental problem is the power imbalance. It's a master-servant relationship and they're treated like gods," an anonymous respondent told the inquiry.
Others described "creepy" behaviour towards young women, and those who made complaints often said they received little support.
Mr Mallard said he was examining Ms Francis' recommendations and was committed to improving Parliament's culture.