Australia’s political leaders and Federal Parliament itself have apologised for the bullying, sexual harassment and assault that has occurred within its walls.
On the first day of the 2022 sitting, the Parliament took time to acknowledge the wrongs that parliamentary staff have suffered, with former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, the woman whose rape allegation sparked a number of inquiries, sitting in the gallery.
Federal Parliament heard statements from Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, as well as from the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate.
The statements were the first recommendation of an independent review conducted last year into the workplace culture within parliamentary offices.
The Jenkins Review described a “man’s world” in which bullying and sexual harassment was rife.
Mr Morrison thanked Ms Higgins for having the courage to come forward, and apologised.
“I am sorry. We are sorry. I am sorry to Ms Higgins for the terrible things that took place here,” he said.
“And the place that should have been a place for safety and contribution, turned out to be a nightmare.
“I am sorry for far more than that. All of those who came before Ms Higgins and endured the same.”
Mr Morrison said perpetrators of bullying, abuse and violence would be held to account.
“The light will come to those behaviours, as it must,” he said.
The Prime Minister committed to changing the culture of Parliament to create a place “which embodies in every form the values, hopes and aspirations of the Australian people”.
“Sorry is only the start, that is our promise to those who are here today, and those watching across Australia. We must and we can and we will do better,” he said.
“I am determined that we deliver the outcomes of the Jenkins Review and make our Commonwealth Parliamentary workplaces safer and respectful for everyone.”
Mr Albanese also praised Ms Higgins’ and others’ courage and apologised, but said words were meaningless if they did not lead to action.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to everyone in this building as well as every former staff member who stepped up to share their experiences of workplace bullying and misconduct of sexual harassment and, most traumatically, sexual assault.
“I say to everyone who took part, that took a level of courage that you should never have needed to show. But you did and we thank you for it.”
Mr Albanese also committed Labor to change and urged men to be part of the solution.
“We cannot attract the best people to this place if we don’t strive to be the best ourselves,” he said. “Nor can we leave this work just to women. Men have to step up and be allied in both word and deed.
“This has been made clear to us by the extraordinary examples of not just Brittany Higgins, but Grace Tame and others who have found the strength to lift the weight of their own experience and hold it high until no one could look away.”
Mr Albanese said it would take a real and sustained effort to create lasting cultural change.
“I believe we can do it. I know that we have to.”
Speaker Andrew Wallace in his statement thanked all who came forward to participate in the Jenkins Review and those who could not, saying every workplace should be safe and respectful but Parliament should be a model workplace.
He acknowledged that this had been far from the case.
“Parliamentary workers feel pride in working for the country and the privilege and honour of making a difference for the Australian people. However for far too many, it has not been safe or respectful,” he said.
“While we know we cannot undo the harm that has already been done, we are committed to acknowledging the mistakes of the past, and continuing to build safe and respectful workplaces.”
He said Parliament was committed to implementing all of the Jenkins Review’s 28 recommendations.
Last year an independent complaints process was established and professional training has been under way for Members, Senators and staff.