One in three people working in Australia’s Parliament have experienced sexual harassment, a report published Tuesday revealed, following an independent inquiry into parliamentary workplace culture.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who ordered the review in February after his party came under pressure over its handling of an alleged rape inside the building, said the findings were “appalling” and “disturbing.”
The review detailed widespread improper behavior and found that more than half of the people who responded had experienced at least one incident of sexual harassment, bullying and actual or attempted sexual assault.
After a seven-month-long investigation, the report said 63% of the country’s female parliamentarians “have experienced some form of sexual harassment while working there.”
“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,” said one of the report’s 1,700 interviewees.
“Such experiences leave a trail of devastation for individuals and their teams and undermine the performance of our parliament to the nation’s detriment,” it added, according to Reuters.
The report made 28 recommendations, including a formal statement of acknowledgment by political leaders, and targets to increase gender diversity and “a proactive focus on safety and wellbeing.”
It was launched amid widespread outrage over the alleged rape of parliamentary staffer Brittany Higgins inside a minister’s office, after a night out with conservative Liberal Party colleagues. Her allegations – which are still before the court – fueled nationwide demonstrations and demands for reform.
Higgins on Tuesday welcomed the report and thanked “the many brave people who shared their stories which contributed to this review.”
“I hope all sides of politics not only commit to but implement these recommendations in full,” she said in a statement sent via the Australian National University, where she is now a visiting fellow.
Greens’ Senator Sarah Hanson-Young described the report as a “damning expose of the sexist culture and harassment in politics.”
“The statistics and comments are shocking, but for many women here they are not surprising and ring true to our own experiences,” she was quoted by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Morrison said Parliament must clean up its act.
“Like anyone who works in this building, I find the statistics that are presented here, of course, appalling and disturbing,” he told reporters in Canberra. “I wish I found them more surprising.”
Morrison is under pressure to address parliamentary culture ahead of an election due in the first half of next year. Support for his conservative coalition government fell in the wake of the rape allegation, while thousands of women marched across the country calling for equality.