The federal government has been rocked by yet another harassment claim, as scrutiny over Parliament’s workplace culture continues.
Victorian Nationals MP Anne Webster has lodged a complaint against a man who allegedly harassed her in Parliament House last week.
The former social worker told the ABC she was shocked at the treatment, especially given the recent scrutiny of inappropriate behaviour towards women in her workplace.
“My first thought was, you’ve got to be kidding me,” she said.
“I mean, really? I was dumbfounded by this behaviour.”
Dr Webster said she did not want to go into details of what happened or who did it, but she has lodged a complaint with the National Party and its leader Michael McCormack.
“I’ve since spoken to the person and he assures me it won’t happen again,” she said.
“We need to work very hard at changing the culture of what is acceptable.”
‘We can change the culture we’re all tired of’
The Mallee MP now knows first hand how challenging it can be to navigate the complaints process.
“Even it to call it a ‘complaints process’, it does imply the person who has raised the issue is the problem, we’re the complainer, and I don’t think that’s helpful,” she said.
“These issues need to be raised, we need to be able to have mature conversations, we need to be able to work through with support so that we can change the culture we’re all tired of.”
She wants to use her experience to help guide change as she liaises with past and present Nationals staffers and politicians, as part of the inquiry into parliament’s workplace culture.
“The role the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack gave me was to be the go-to person for staff who’ve exited now, MPs and senators should they want to raise issues, so they had a person to speak to,” she said.
“He implemented that quickly as soon as it became clear we needed to do more than hope it’ll go away.”
Is drug and alcohol testing at Parliament a good idea?
The inquiry headed by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins was commissioned after former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins went public with allegations she was raped in a ministerial office.
One issue it’s expected to canvas is whether parliamentarians should face alcohol and drug tests.
The idea is gathering steam, with prominent female Liberal backbenchers Katie Allen and Sarah Henderson agreeing it could help as part of wider workplace cultural reforms at Parliament House.
Shadow finance minister Katy Gallagher believes it should be considered as part of the review.
“Drug and alcohol testing is a common feature of many workplaces now, across Australia where it has become almost standard practice for operating, so it’s not as if it’s an unusual thing to be asking,” she said.