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Bullying and harassment widespread in Parliament, report finds

Bullying and harassment are "systemic" in the Parliamentary workplace, the report into Parliament bullying and harassment has found.

Cases of alleged sexual assault were also included in the report, three of those described as "extremely serious and some appeared to be part of a multi-year pattern of predatory behaviour".

The five-month review conducted by Debbie Francis found harmful behaviour by and between staff, managers, MPs, media and the public.

"The alleged bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and other harmful behaviours that were described to me do not contribute to a healthy and safe workplace in which the dignity and respect of elected Members and staff are consistently maintained," Ms Francis wrote.

"Unacceptable behaviour" was often tolerated or normalised, and a perceived problem was low accountability, particularly for MPs, "who face few sanctions for harmful behaviour".

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An independent investigator says being a high-pressure workplace is no excuse for systemic bullying. Source: 1 NEWS

Through the 1000 online survey and data responses collected by interviews and submissions of current and former staff since 2014, 29 per cent had experienced some form of bullying or harassment either from an MP or a manager, 30 per cent from peers and 24 per cent from a member of the public.

Speaker Trevor Mallard said he was "committed" to making changes "to ensure the parliamentary workplace is free from harmful behaviour". 

"The issues in the report will not be a quick fix and any solutions will need to have input from those affected and address the systematic issues."

Of those who experienced bullying or harassment, 56 per cent experienced "destructive gossip", 53 per cent said there was a lack of cooperation and support, 41 per cent said they were undermined, 47 per cent experienced demeaning language, 41 per cent experienced aggressive behaviour and 29 per cent said they were isolated or excluded unfairly.

Overall, 78 per cent of respondents observed or experienced "unreasonable or aggressive behaviour that intimidates or threatens".
Ms Francis said there was a minority of MPs "whose conduct is unacceptable".

One respondent wrote: "There’s a majority of absolutely lovely MPs and Ministers who are real people and would be excellent leaders anywhere… Then there’s a few who are various shades of sh*ts… and everyone knows who they are and no one ever challenges them, at least not obviously or effectively."

Another said: "My [MP] would just scream at me, asking for something one minute then turning around and demanding it five minutes later, when it was clearly a two-hour job."

Instances of personal or inappropriate tasks some respondents were asked to perform for MPs included helping pack for an apartment move, buying an MP’s lunch with their own money, being asked to stay at an MP’s relative’s house with the MP, or cleaning up the office after a party while an MP slept on the couch.

One staff member described behaviour as "the combination of mild sexism with mild racism", saying women of colour received "most" of that kind of harassment.

Ms Francis said she was not "cherry picking stories about a bad day or an off-coloured joke", instead there was a clear picture "of a small number of Members whose behvaiours fall well outside the normal range to be expected in a workplace".

The report found it to be common for MPs to experience threats of physical violence, including death threats, from the public.

"Women MPs showed me sexist and racist threats that shocked me,” Ms Francis said.

Six MPs said they had experienced physical violence, with half described as having a racial element.

The report wrote that a "significant number of respondents, not all of them MPs, commented on what they perceived as inappropriate behaviour by members of the Press Gallery, or media more generally".

"These respondents understood that onsite journalists, in the words of one, 'need to be really assertive in their role working on behalf of the people of New Zealand to ensure an open democracy'."

Of the online survey, 25 per cent had experienced offensive remarks, comments jokes or gestures of a sexist nature.

Fifty respondents from the online survey experienced unwanted touching, and 54 experienced unwanted sexual advances, 14 alleged they had experienced sexual assault. Of the interviews, 24 experienced unwanted touching, 24 experienced sexual advances and five said they had experienced sexual assault.

Ms Francis said of those who alleged sexual assault in the Parliamentary workplace, three were "extremely serious and some appeared to be part of a multi year pattern of predatory behaviour".

It said that "unique" features of Parliament created risk factors, this included the high-intensity culture, lack of leadership development, unusual employment arrangements and barriers to making complaints.

One staff member wrote: "This workplace is so ridiculously demanding that only 24-year-olds and older people can survive in here and then only with self-medication. Anyone sane or with a family just gets out."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said improvements needed to be made, and would be asking for regular reports and would share the information with Labour "to ensure a joined-up approach in any action that may be taken as a result of these reports". 

"While I acknowledge we work in an environment of long hours and pressure, excuses won’t be tolerated."

Ms Francis made 85 recommendations to Parliamentary Service, Department of Internal Affairs/Ministerial and Secretariat Services and the Office of the Clerk.

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The review was conducted by Debbie Francis who spoke to media after it was released. Source: 1 NEWS