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Thursday, May 30, 2024
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Toxic Warning

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Image: Michael Coghlan, CC BY-SA 2.0
Image: Michael Coghlan, CC BY-SA 2.0

Australia’s first and oldest parliament, described by those in power as a cornerstone of our nation’s democracy is today in disarray, caught in a quagmire of bullying, petty feuds, sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations.

The Broderick Report into Bullying, Sexual Harassment and Sexual Misconduct in NSW Parliamentary Workplaces examined more than 500 surveys and written submissions and carried out 109 confidential interviews to discover one in three of the respondents had experienced bullying or sexual harassment in the past five years.

It is a damning insight into the true moral character and toxic culture within the NSW parliament, which over the past four years has enacted the most extreme abortion and euthanasia laws in the country, restricted people’s ability to pray outside abortion clinics and has given people of faith no comfort that their religious freedoms will be protected.

Premier Dominic Perrottet has been strong in his leadership condemning the actions exposed within the parliament, saying “this review shines a light on a confronting reality, and I thank all the survivors whose bravery in participating will make our parliament a safer place”.

“Leaders need to be far more self-reflective. They set the standard for everyone working in parliament. Instead of attacks on people, there should be careful considered debate about policies.”

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Yet in a business where intrigue and information are currency, compounded by the cramped office space in Macquarie street, it’s naive to think that the rumours of bullying and abuse were not common knowledge.

With two of the governments’ most senior members, Treasurer Matt Kean and Transport Minster David Elliott slinging insults at each other through the media, just two days after the landmark report into bullying being released, Head of the School of Philosophy and Theology at The University of Notre Dame Professor Renée Köhler-Ryan, said the public feud of two of the Government’s most senior members is a telling indication of the magnitude of the problem.

“Leaders need to be far more self-reflective. They set the standard for everyone working in parliament. Instead of attacks on people, there should be careful considered debate about policies.”

One potential difficulty Professor Köhler-Ryan acknowledges is that it may not be the people, but the pressure cooker of the culture of parliament that’s the problem. There can be a lack of diversity of experience among those representing citizens.

The Legislative Council chamber of the Parliament of New South Wales. Photo: Coekon, CC BY-SA 4.0
The Legislative Council chamber of the Parliament of New South Wales. Photo: Coekon, CC BY-SA 4.0

Walt Secord MLC, who was forced to stand down from his shadow spokesperson duties as a result of bullying allegations exposed in the report, has had a political career of more than 25 years, including jobs as a staffer to Premier’s Bob Carr, Kristina Keneally and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

“Politicians used to be members of the public serving their community, yet the job has evolved into a full-time profession. In a hostile atmosphere, there is the potential for people to lose sight of the values they require to serve the public. The name we commonly give to it is that ‘living in a bubble’ mentality.”

Professor Michael Quinlan, the National Head of School, Law and Business at The University of Notre Dame also examined the report, saying that where Australians from all religious traditions and those who identified as having “no religion” in the latest census could agree, is that all people should be able to go to work and enjoy a working environment in which their human dignity is respected.

“For anyone who has been following the legislative activity of the NSW Parliament in recent years this report should be disturbing but not surprising.”

“Respecting human dignity means that people should be able to be themselves at work and not suffer any detriment in their treatment or advancement because they happen to be from a particular culture, religion, age group or sex.

“For anyone who has been following the legislative activity of the NSW Parliament in recent years this report should be disturbing but not surprising.”

Professor Köhler-Ryan believes this report reaffirms the idea that people wanting to do public good may avoid politics altogether.

“The tough, winner takes all attitude that brings out the worst in people, means the best of us don’t consider a career in public office. This is something we need to change.”

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