Australia’s top political leaders introduce new measures against workplace sexual harassment

Australia’s prime minister on Wednesday released an internal review of workplace issues inside Parliament House after reports of sexual harassment inside the chambers of Australia’s main political body.

The review by non-partisan researchers, mainly political and media academics, found that sexual harassment was rife and that people with opposing views frequently bumped into each other or became physically close. It said drunkenness often led to increased conflict among people.

“These findings underline the problem of cultural change and some of the difficulties associated with working in a modern political environment,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said.

“Many of these are fundamental to the way we conduct ourselves in Australian life. The issues at the center of this study, including alcohol, alcohol and governance, in particular have wider relevance across all Parliament House workplaces and all workplaces in the public and private sectors.”

Labor leader Bill Shorten said the public “should be troubled that people are coming to the Parliament House to speak about workplace violence and harassment.”

Turnbull ordered the review last month after allegations surfaced about sexual harassment in Parliament House.

A female parliamentarian revealed to a broadcaster last October that she had been forced to flee her house because of an “aggressive and inappropriate” sexual comment.

The issue has been of growing interest in recent weeks.

The shadow of the allegations against federal politicians has kept on coming with several other cases of alleged gender-based bullying among politicians and government staffers.

The Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian Financial Review and Fairfax Media newspapers on Wednesday published a report alleging that a woman who worked for former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s office was paid less than her male counterparts despite delivering the same results.

Abbott said the story was “almost certainly untrue” because some of the claims were “precisely the type of correctness that other journalists might be discussing here.”

“On the whole, what is clear is that the press gallery and the Parliament House workplace are different places,” Abbott said.

Earlier, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten called for a Federal Court inquiry into whether workplace bullying was treated seriously in Australia.

The story came a day after the Financial Review reported that a female staffer who previously worked for former speaker Bronwyn Bishop was forced to quit her job after using her position to chase complaints about an alleged incident at Sydney’s exclusive Centennial Park last year. The article said Bishop then disciplined the employee and made her write an apology.

She later quit her job and moved to the public service. The newspaper said Bishop has denied the allegations.

“We need an investigation, an independent investigation into whether any wrongdoing has occurred,” Shorten said.

He complained in particular about lack of action against a prominent politician who is alleged to have made uninvited sexual advances toward male colleagues in a Parliament House bar.

Newspaper reports in February said the unnamed minister may have been under investigation by his department and the Prime Minister’s Office over his behaviour at the bar in October 2015.

“It’s a travesty of justice that the taxpayer money spent on the investigation is lost in bureaucratic red tape,” said the Labor leader.

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