The Beehive and Parliament Buildings, Wellington. (Photo: Getty Images)
The Beehive and Parliament Buildings, Wellington. (Photo: Getty Images)

PoliticsMay 21, 2019

Report finds bullying and sexual harassment rife in parliament

The Beehive and Parliament Buildings, Wellington. (Photo: Getty Images)
The Beehive and Parliament Buildings, Wellington. (Photo: Getty Images)

A report into bullying and harassment has exposed allegations of sexual assault and huge problems with parliament’s culture and reporting systems.

The Francis Report, presented by Speaker Trevor Mallard and independent external reviewer Debbie Francis this morning, established that bullying and harassment are “systemic in the parliamentary workplace”.

It took into account individual anonymous stories of bullying and harassment from more than 1000 respondents, ultimately concluding that there was harmful behaviour by and between staff, managers, MPs, media and the public.

The report contains 14 allegations of sexual assault, and one anonymous respondent said there were certain people in parliament known by many as serial offenders. “There’s the few who are various shades of shits and everyone knows who they are, and no one ever challenges them, at least not obviously or effectively.”

The report includes quotes from people involved in three alleged incidents. One participant described an alleged sexual harassment as making her feel “completely powerless”.

“You’ve got a job you enjoy; you don’t want to raise it in case no one takes your side… I just want to get out.”

Another said there seemed to be no point in complaining due to the “power imbalances [being] so great… why would you even bother?”

Others said they were cautious of reporting cases of bullying and harassment because they were unsure if they’d be believed or thought they would likely be found at fault.

“Most of the dodgy stuff happens on trips away or when drinking is present. It doesn’t make anyone look flash.”

Some said that when they did make complaints, they felt as though their cases weren’t properly handled by Human Resources. One said if they had “been more supported and believed, then I would be happier than I am now.”

The report also highlighted the “unique features” creating risk factors for bullying and harassment in parliament, including barriers to making complaints and health, safety and wellbeing policies that are “not yet mature.”

A core perceived problem revealed in the report was the lack of accountability, particularly for MPs. It said they “face few sanctions for harmful behaviour”.

It says those in higher profile roles should be using this privilege to model expectations and hold others to account for poor conduct.

It also says ministers, members and chief executives should be investing in strategic human resource management and establishing processes for complaints and investigations.

As a result, changes to the parliamentary workplace will be made, promised to be “comprehensive and complex”, but the report also states that implementing these changes will require skill and will need to be monitored “over a period of years”.

The report offers a total of 85 recommendations. Those related to bullying, described in the report as “extensive and ambitious” are as follows:

  • Explicit investment in the development of a culture of dignity and respect in the parliamentary workplace
  • Additional investment in leadership development
  • Enhanced and extended pastoral care
  • Greater investment in strategic workforce management, modernised employment approaches and consolidation of HR services
  • Improved health, safety and wellbeing polices, processes, engagement and governance
  • Removal of barriers to disclosure
  • Revised and new policies; and
  • A programme of ongoing monitoring, evaluation and audit of the cultural health of the workplace.
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