30 November 2021

The unintended outcome of today’s selection of a new leader of the National Party marked the crushing of Mrs Collins’ aspirations. Scheming eliminated her opponent from the leadership stakes but in circumstances that may well see him stay on the Opposition front bench with the possibility of being in Government, should the National Party stars realign! Her own spill is probably permanent. Perhaps she should have been more aware that this week is the anniversary of the 1963 release by the Beatles of “I want to hold your hand” and been more companionable. If she wanted to be Churchillian  – as 30 November was Winston’s birthday – she would have been better adopting his advice that “However beautiful the strategy you should occasionally look at the results.” This was not a fighting on the beaches occasion.

If she thought observations at a social occasion five years ago on the technique of procreating female offspring was gender-based harassment, she would certainly be too delicate for a Ministerial role in Australia.  A report tabled yesterday on the state of the Australian Public Service disclosed that sexual harassment complaints more than doubled between 2020 and 2021 and there had been a 30% increase in bullying and harassment complaints over the previous two years. In the face of troubling data on sexual complaints, an APS Gender Equality Strategy, due for release soon, will set out the APS Commission’s approach to preventing and responding to gender-based harassment and discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault and bullying.  The report sought to balance these “proportionally few” concerns with an acknowledgment of a strong workforce engagement and a changing mindset during the year, from individual agencies to “one-enterprise”.

But it may well be that the behaviour of Parliamentarians influences the conduct of public servants. The Guardian headline today of a 456 page report by the Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner is  “Revolting and humiliating: 10 things we learned about working at parliament …” During a seven month inquiry, the commissioner and her staff  were told;

  • 51% of current parliamentary staff had experienced at least one incident of bullying, sexual harassment or actual or attempted sexual assault, while 77% had experienced, witnessed or heard about such behaviour.
  • 33% experienced some form of sexual harassment. “Aspiring male politicians who thought nothing of, in one case, picking you up, kissing you on the lips, lifting you up, touching you, pats on the bottom, comments about appearance, you know, the usual … the culture allowed it.”
  • Those doing the bullying, harassing and assaulting, tended to be more senior, and women were more likely to bully while men were more likely to perpetrate sexual harassment.
  • Only half of those involved knew how to make a report or complaint. And even if they know how to, most said they wouldn’t report it.
  • Only 11% of those who experienced sexual harassment reported it, because they thought it wasn’t serious enough, or that people would think they were overreacting.
  • Just 32% of those who experienced bullying reported it, as they thought nothing would be done or it would damage their reputation or career.

Existing codes, let alone the sense of decency expected of Members of Parliament and a recognition of their professional responsibilities, apparently have limited influence. Perhaps naming and shaming may be the only way to influence change. And may be Mrs Collins felt her actions were necessary to avoid a Covid-like transmission to the New Zealand Parliament of these Australian practices…..  




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