Wednesday, May 15, 2024
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Ex-Australian minister says she was harassed in Parliament

SYDNEY – Australia’s former home affairs minister said on Tuesday that a male colleague used to breathe down her neck as she spoke in Parliament. She is the latest woman to question the country’s political culture.

Ms Karen Andrews, who is now a senior conservative politician, said that when she raised the unnamed man’s behaviour with others, she was asked: “Can’t you take a joke?”

The macho nature of Australian politics was highlighted late in 2021 when a scathing review found that the country’s halls of power were rife with heavy drinking, bullying and sexual harassment.

Similar criticism flared up again earlier in 2023 when two politicians from different sides of the aisle accused the same conservative senator of sexual assault.

Ms Andrews, who will retire at the next election, added her voice to the chorus of condemnation in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“I did have one of my male colleagues who used to breathe on the back of my neck in question time,” Ms Andrews said, when asked if she had experienced harassment in Parliament. “I’d just be sitting there minding my own business and I would have the back of my neck breathed on.

“And if I asked a question, it would be: ‘That was a great question, thrusting and probing’… that sort of stuff,” she added.

A broad review published in November 2021 found that one in three people working inside Australia’s Parliament House had experienced some form of sexual harassment.

The same review by the Australian Human Rights Commission also found that a laddish culture permeated the building, fuelled by frequent bouts of heavy drinking.

Although Australia has increased the number of women sitting in Parliament, it has done so far more slowly than other countries.

In 1999, Australia had the 15th-highest proportion of women in its Parliament, according to rankings compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

By 2022, it had slipped down the table to 57th place. AFP

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