New South Wales Premiser Dominic Perrottet has vowed to put an end to the vitriol and toxicity in State Parliament, issuing a directive to ministers this week to cease inappropriate behaviours towards their colleagues, or face severe consequences including the possibility of termination.
The Broderick Report
The Premier’s stance comes on the back of a review of workplace bullying and sexual harassment by former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, which painted a appalling picture of the New South Wales Parliament as an unsafe, sexist, dysfunctional environment.
The review, which was announced last year, followed an earlier inquiry into ministerial offices undertaken by former sex discrimination commissioner and minister Pru Goward.
The Goward review, which was not widely publicised, was ordered by Premier Gladys Berejiklian after allegations of sexual assault in Federal Parliament were made by Brittany Higgins.
The Goward report’s findings included that “the political ambitions of some staff and their frequent involvement in party-political activities further complicate a staff member’s readiness to complain.”
It found a number of serious shortcomings currently existing within the system, and several recommendations for reform.
The Broderick Review has took a much deeper look into the State Parliament as a whole.
The Broderick Report detailed allegation made by five people – three men and two women – that they had been the victims of actual or attempted sexual assault in previous years.
There were also reports of systemic injurious behaviour, humiliation sexual harassment and homophobia by ministers against staff members.
A survey conducted during the review found that one in ministers reported witnessing or hearing about sexual assault in the workplace, and that victims who reported these crimes were not supported or treated seriously.
The review spoke to 109 people in confidential, one-on-one interviews, received 58 written submissions and heard from 447 people.
One in five people, most of them women, young people, and LGBTI people, said they had experienced sexual harassment.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely
The review further found that many of the ministers who, in layman’s terms, let the power of their office get to their head had no previous experience of managing people, that they were appalling team leaders and that alcohol consumption often exacerbated toxic and inappropriate behaviour.
The review also referenced the rude and offensive way ministers routinely speak to each other on the floor of Parliament – a place nicknamed the “bear pit” – which often spilled over into offices and corridors.
This is behaviour we have seen glimpses of from time to time, with public reports in the past several months that Health Minister Brad Hazzard publicly humiliated a journalist during a media conference, and a colleague at an internal meeting.
More recently, Transport Minister David Elliott came under fire for saying Matt Kean was a “boy trying to do a man’s job” in relation to his negotiations with the railway union,” he said.
The petty squabbling is no substitute for mature, reasoned, sensible and respectful debate, which is really what taxpayers expect and deserve.
Furthermore, while the stouches make great headlines and newspaper fodder, they simply turn most of us off the general day-to-day business of politics, and disinterest is dangerous, democracy relies on voters taking an active interest in the issues at stake and the decisions being made.
“It ends today”
In response to the Broderick Report, Mr Perrottet said “This must end. It ends today, and we will work very closely with all sides of politics to implement change for the betterment of workplaces in the NSW parliament.”
The Premier has committed to supporting all of the reforms recommended by the report, acknowledging at the same time that it will take a significant amount of work to ensure the NSW Parliament becomes a safe workplace.
The stern directive issued to ministers this week is a good start, especially considering the review was finalised just days ago. Perhaps another good start is the termination of Small Businesses and Fair Trading Minister, Eleni Petinos, also just days ago due to her bullying and belittling of employees.