NSW parliament admits 'toxic' work culture

As NSW parliament winds up before the March election, more than a dozen MPs are saying goodbye to the combative arena that will also take stock of how women have been impacted by institutional sexism.

The "Bear Pit", as parliament is sometimes known, may have been a hospitable place for veteran politicians but for women it has not been safe.

Legislative Assembly speaker Jonathan O'Dea delivered a contrite statement to close out the last week of parliament sitting this year in response to a damning report deeming parliament a toxic workplace.

"We sincerely apologise to all those who have experienced bullying, sexual harassment or sexual misconduct in any of parliament's workplaces," he told parliament on Wednesday.

"We acknowledge the harms caused and deeply regret the trauma experienced of some here in this parliament"

"We acknowledge your pain and the mental stress and the anguish caused by such behaviour".

"We understand the lasting impact of your experiences. We acknowledge how hard it is to speak up about these issues".

The statement of acknowledgement comes after a year-long investigation by former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick into bullying, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct at parliament.

The landmark report handed down in August found one in five people who work at parliament have experienced sexual harassment in the past five years, with five reporting an attempted or realised sexual assault.

One in four people working in the building participated in the report, which involved input from MPs as well as political, cleaning, security and catering staff.

Witness statements in the report portrayed a workplace where people were too afraid or untrusting to speak up against bad behaviour, which was more commonly experienced by young staff.

Staffers complained parliament was "devastating" on their mental health, and the report said this had caused an exodus of talent.

Long hours, "disgraceful" treatment of staff by MPs, emotionally taxing work and a "real drinking culture" were all cited as part of the toxic culture.

The report noted tenuous work arrangements as an aggravating factor, with one MP describing how they "could walk into my office now and fire all the staff and they have no recourse".

Mr O'Dea said as a first step towards redress former NSW Trading Commissioner Rose Webb had been appointed as independent complaints officer describing it as an "apolitical role" to deal with workplace harassment reports with "strict impartiality and sensitivity'.

"Our culture should should be an exemplar to all workplaces across NSW," he said.

Liberal MP Leslie Williams, who chairs the parliamentary advisory group on bullying, sexual harassment and serious misconduct, also told parliament the report was an important catalyst towards changing toxic workplace culture.

Established in May 2021, including sexual misconduct survivors, staffers and MPs across the political aisle, Ms Williams said the report is "confronting reading ... and a testament to many voices".

She said the report found parliamentary culture was "aggressive, impulsive, inconsistent, punitive and bullying".

One third of all parliamentary workers have experienced some form of bullying or sexual harassment in the last five years, the report found.

"It does not have to be this way," Ms Williams told parliament.

"By building respect, valuing diversity and working together we can ensure that this parliament as a workplace and as a cornerstone of our democracy is worthy of the respect that we and all our communities place in it".