Parliament to act against sexual harassment & assault

Tonight Abigail has successfully led calls to implement new proactive measures in NSW Parliament which will see new reporting mechanisms and staff training to prevent sexual harassment and assault. 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (20:38): I move:

(1)That this House notes that:

(a)on 14 and 15 March 2021, hundreds of thousands of people across the country joined protests and actions as part of the March 4 Justice movement, including actions in Albury, Armidale, Bathurst, Bega, Bellingen, Byron, the Central Coast, Clarence Valley, Lismore, Newcastle, Nowra, Orange, Sydney, Taree, Wagga Wagga, and Wollongong; and

(b)the March 4 Justice movement seeks to address sexual harassment and sexual assault committed in political spaces and by people in political movements, and failures of the justice system to respond to sexual assault.

(2)That this House acknowledges that no political party or political institution is immune from sexism, misogyny, sexual harassment or sexual assault.

(3)That this House acknowledges:

(a)the difficulty that victim survivors of sexual harassment and assault may experience in speaking out about their experiences; and

(b)that for women in politics there is often pressure that prevents speaking out about sexual harassment and assault experienced in political spaces for fear of reputational damage to the political party or movement to which they have committed themselves.

(4)That this House calls on the Government to take proactive measures to ensure that Parliament is a safe workplace for all women, and is free of assault and harassment, including by:

(a)implementing a confidential reporting mechanism;

(b)regularly confidentially surveying all staff working in or for Parliament and its members on their experiences in the workplace, in line with the People Matter Employee Survey conducted by the Public Service Commission;

(c)contracting an external organisation to conduct a review of all relevant workplace policies with the view to implementing best practice evidence-based work health and safety policies, processes and procedures;

(d)providing sexual consent training to all staff working in or for Parliament and its members; and

(e)providing widespread best-practice training on responding to disclosures of sexual harassment and assault.


On Monday, I and many others from this place, along with hundreds of thousands of people across the country, joined protests as part of the March 4 Justice movement. I thank everyone involved in organising the marches across the country and to every person who turned up or showed their support, delivering the clear message to all politicians and all political parties that enough is enough. Let me be very clear: No political party is immune from sexism, misogyny, sexual harassment or sexual assault. It is statistically incredibly likely that there are people working in this Parliament right now have been sexually assaulted or harassed in the workplace and have not reported it.

I say to anyone who has been triggered by the constant media stories on this issue over the past month and who have found the public debate to have exacerbated their trauma and their feelings of shame, I understand. As someone who was raped for the first time as an 8-year-old, every time I hear commentary asserting that those speaking out about their assault are liars, mentally ill, politically motivated or any of the other despicable things said by some in the media over the past month, it hurts. It makes me furious to know that we still live in a society where people victim-blame, where they fail to question myths around rape and assault, and where they deny a problem in our society that should, in 2021, be beyond question.

For women in politics, there are unique pressures to keep silent about sexual harassment and assault, and to decide not to take action to hold their perpetrators to account. For women in political parties, speaking out does not just jeopardise career progression, it risks destabilising their whole political movement. For those people who deeply believe in their political party as the driver of necessary change, the pressure to sacrifice their own needs and individual justice for the greater good is very real. That is why we cannot just rest on our laurels, point at Canberra and be thankful that right now we do not have current reports of incidents in the New South Wales Parliament on the front page of the papers.

With one in three people experiencing sexual harassment at work in the past five years, and the statistics showing no significant improvement over the last 35 years, we must, as the Australian Human Rights Commission recommends, shift from the current reactive model to a proactive one in our efforts to stamp out violence against women in the workplace, in politics and everywhere. We have a responsibility to actively and confidentially survey everyone in our Parliament and related offices, regardless of who they are technically employed by, to ensure that everyone is safe and feels safe in their workplace. I acknowledge the work that has already been done using the People Matter Employee Survey in relation to parliamentary staff. I ask that this be rolled out to regularly and confidentially survey all staff, including those who work in members' offices and electorate offices.

We also need to ensure that we are respecting the work of specialists in this area, by involving them so that we have best -practice evidence-based work health and safety policies in relation to sexual assault and harassment. We should also seek the expertise of those specialist organisations in choosing or designing appropriate sexual consent training for all staff working in or for Parliament and its members. We know that there are people in our Parliament, and in offices connected with members of Parliament, who have spoken out about their experiences and received an inadequate response, and there are likely to be many more in a similar situation. That is heartbreaking.

The first response to disclosure of sexual assault or harassment is critical. That response can heavily impact on the progress that a person will make in dealing with what has happened to them, and with the impacts of trauma caused by their experience. Receiving a disclosure of sexual assault and responding in a manner that does not cause more harm than good is not something that we all just instinctively know how to do—it is something we need to educate ourselves about. That is why it is critical that all workplaces, including this one, not only establish a well-publicised and confidential reporting mechanism to be the first point of contact for disclosures, but also implements best-practice training on responding to disclosures of sexual harassment and assault for all those who are likely to receive disclosures outside of that mechanism.

The current momentum for change is powerful, but it is also incredibly difficult for survivors. We must ensure that the efforts of so many survivors to prevent further violence are not in vain, and enact the cultural change that is needed. This motion asks us to take concrete proactive action in this Parliament to do our part in progressing that cultural change and in ending violence against women. I commend the motion to the House.

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