'Most unsafe workplace in Australia': Stunning claim in New York Times

Brooke Rolfe
·News Reporter
·5-min read

While deeply entrenched issues within Australia's Parliament House have been hotly contested locally in recent months, such matters have now been called into question by overseas critics.

Growing anger from women towards Prime Minister Scott Morrison, coupled with allegations of sexual misconduct and a historic "boys club" atmosphere within Parliament House have been detailed in a damning New York Times piece. 

The publication highlighted a particularly unflattering comment made by former Liberal MP Julia Banks, who left parliament in 2019 after years of her complaints of bullying against women in politics falling on deaf ears. 

“It is the most unsafe workplace in the country,” Ms Banks told ABC Mornings radio of Parliament House last month — the same day thousands across Australia marched for safer and fairer conditions for women. 

Scott Morrison in parliament appearing to scratch his head.
Scott Morrison's government has been embroiled in ongoing allegations of sexual misconduct for months. Source: AAP

NY Times reporter Damian Cave noted the major catalyst for growing uproar was Brittany Higgins alleging in an interview with The Project that she had been raped in her boss Linda Reynolds' office by a senior colleague in 2019. 

Four more women have since come forward to allege they too were victims of the same man, whose identity has not been made public. He was sacked following the 2019 allegation, and is understood to currently be subject to police investigation.

Cave said widespread claims of back-dated and ongoing misogyny within Australian politics framed it as "Australia’s most sexist backwater, where many men have long assumed they can act like kings". 

"Women of every party say that for years they have been demeaned while trying to do their jobs," he wrote. 

Morrison: 'Sexual harassment is unacceptable'

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, 39 per cent of women and 26 per cent of men have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in recent times, Mr Morrison said at a press conference in Canberra on Thursday morning.

“The events around this building over the course of the past few months have only further highlighted and reinforced the seriousness of these issues, the challenge that we face and the great frustration that is felt by Australians and, in particular, women all over the country,” he said.

The behaviour of those who work in Parliament House has come under a global spotlight. Source: Getty
The behaviour of those who work in Parliament House has come under a global spotlight. Source: Getty

"Sexual harassment is unacceptable. It's not only immoral and despicable and even criminal, but particularly in the context of the Respect at Work report, it denies Australians, especially women, not just their personal security but their economic security by not being safe at work."

Citing recommendations from a Respect at Work report by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins handed down last year, Mr Morrison said the government is working "to change the culture across Australia".

Claims complaints of assault were silenced

Greens MP Sarah Hanson-Young was one of a growing number of women in parliament to have publicly called out sexist behaviour, recently winning a lawsuit against former Liberal MP David Leyonhjelm, who shouted “stop shagging men” in a 2018 sitting. 

Claims of a troublesome alcohol culture within Parliament House were also highlighted, with Cave detailing an allegation from former Labor MP Emma Husar who said she was silenced after telling her boss a Liberal MP groped her during a function in 2017. 

Allegations of alcohol being a factor in the alleged rape of Ms Higgins have also resurfaced recently, with Veteran broadcaster Jeremy Cordeaux being sacked after calling her a "silly girl who got drunk".

Brittany Higgins at the March for Justice protest in Canberra.
Brittany Higgins' rape allegation in February was the catalyst for claims of sexist behaviour in Australian politics. Source: AAP

"She should have her bottom smacked," he told listeners of his weekend breakfast show at Adelaide radio station FIVEaa on Saturday, saying she should not have allowed herself to get in "that kind of compromising situation".

Ms Higgins' allegation sparked a wave of women coming forward with claims of abuse and inappropriate behaviour in parliament – an issue that is now receiving global coverage. 

Morrison criticised for handling of allegations 

Mr Morrison was widely criticised after telling the country he only understood the breadth of the alleged assault against Ms Higgins after his wife Jenny told him to consider how he would feel if it were one of his daughters who had been a victim.

He was also criticised for standing by Defence Minister Linda Reynolds after she called Ms Higgins a "lying cow" — a comment Ms Reynolds claimed was fuelled by a belief she had been "misrepresented" by Ms Higgins. 

In a fiery press conference last month the PM was accused of weaponising a rumour of alleged sexual assault against a journalist, with the rumour later turning out to be untrue. He later apologised for making the false accusation in public.

Mr Morrison was last month put on blast by Tracy Grimshaw in a bombshell A Current Affair interview where he was forced to defend the government's handling of Ms Higgins' rape allegation and the historic rape allegation against Attorney General Christian Porter.

Mr Porter led a press conference last month, vehemently denying the allegation he raped a 16-year-old girl in Sydney in 1988 when they were both students.

He has refused calls to step down from his prestigious role, instead agreeing to work fewer hours while he pursues a defamation case against the ABC.

Mr Morrison has however agreed there was cleaning up to do within Parliament House, with the development of a Cabinet Taskforce dedicated to topics of women’s security and economic security holding its first meeting this week.

Do you have a story tip? Email: newsroomau@yahoonews.com

You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and download the Yahoo News app from the App Store or Google Play.