On Tuesday, as the prime minister prepared to present a report describing sexual harassment, bullying and assault within parliament and its precincts, his deputy warned colleagues to be careful when getting drunk in public in case their pictures ended up in the newspaper.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce urged Coalition MPs to look after each other during end-of-year partying and not undermine the government’s response to the report by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, titled “Set the Standard”. He urged them to read it.
At their weekly party room meeting, Joyce reminded them of the risks inherent in the traditionally festive final parliamentary week of the year. He suggested they could no longer cut loose and assume they would be protected from scrutiny.
Joyce said with anyone now able to take photographs and send them anywhere, they needed to be careful. How they conducted themselves was “very, very important”, especially with the Jenkins report in focus.
Joyce urged his colleagues to look after their mates and if any were drunk, “Don’t just call them a cab, put them in a cab.”
One described the advice as “pastoral”.
The warning came during another tumultuous week for the government. Education Minister Alan Tudge was stood aside from his cabinet position and faces an investigation after former media adviser Rachelle Miller, with whom he had an extramarital affair, alleged abuse. Tudge denies the allegations.
The week also saw former attorney-general Christian Porter announce he is quitting politics at next year’s election. Porter has faced historical rape allegations, which he also denies, made by a woman who took her own life before they could be investigated.
Both men featured in an ABC Four Corners program last year, titled “Inside the Canberra Bubble”, which canvassed issues around the late-night drinking culture in federal politics, some politicians’ alleged behaviour and the treatment of staff.
Tabled in parliament on Tuesday, the Jenkins report confirmed a deeply entrenched problem in Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces and recommended changes, including to the use of alcohol in Parliament House.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said its findings were “appalling and disturbing”. “I wish I found them more surprising,” he said.
Along with proposed changes to employment structures, measures to encourage greater diversity, new codes of conduct and an independent parliamentary standards commission that could apply sanctions, Jenkins recommends placing greater emphasis on respect. She says this should be both in dealing with staff and in politicians’ behaviour in parliament.
It has emerged that Scott Morrison removed key references to respect when he redrafted the ministerial code of conduct upon becoming prime minister in 2018.
He retained the ban on ministers having sex with their staff, which predecessor Malcolm Turnbull introduced following revelations Barnaby Joyce had had an extramarital affair with his then media adviser and now partner Vicki Campion, who was pregnant with his child.
But Morrison rewrote and simplified Turnbull’s foreword, reducing it from 10 paragraphs to five.
Turnbull’s foreword had emphasised that ministers should always behave “in their personal relations with others and especially their staff, the staff of other Ministers or members of the Australian Public Service, with integrity and respect”.
Morrison’s version omits that reference.
His more general foreword also does not repeat Turnbull’s emphasis on personal conduct and decorum and omits a Turnbull statement that ministers should be “very conscious” of the sacrifice their spouses and children made to support their political career and that they deserved “honour and respect”.
Turnbull highlights and comments on the changes in an updated foreword to a newly published edition of his memoir A Bigger Picture, calling them curious “for such a public family man”.
A spokesperson for Morrison noted that the incidents involving ministers were alleged to have occurred under Turnbull’s ministerial standards.
“Prime Minister Morrison has been a strong supporter of improving staff safety,” the spokesperson said.
The Morrison government had established a parliamentary workplace support service, independent complaints mechanism, 24-hour support line and workplace training that “did not previously exist”, the spokesperson said.
“The government will work constructively now with parliamentarians from across the political spectrum to make the changes we need to ensure our workplace is safe, supportive and respectful.”
Morrison said the government would consider the 28 recommendations in the Jenkins report but has not committed to implementing them fully.
The report found one in three people working in Parliament House and its precincts had experienced sexual harassment. It found 51 per cent had experienced at least one incident of bullying, harassment or actual or attempted sexual assault, and more than three-quarters had either experienced or witnessed it.
Based on a survey, it estimated about 1 per cent of the approximately 3000 people who work in Parliament House had been victims of actual or attempted rape or sexual assault.
The report contained harrowing stories gathered from more than 900 people – parliamentarians, their staff and others who work in the building, including in administration, transport, hospitality, security and the media.
Among many incidents, it described a university student and part-time parliamentary assistant walking into a politician’s office to find them standing completely naked, greeting the assistant as if that were perfectly normal.
It said another politician had put his hand up a woman’s skirt at a party and tried to kiss her. Separately, another had witnessed a colleague forcing their hand down a member of staff’s pants.
The review found the victims were mostly women. It found 63 per cent of female parliamentarians had experienced harassment, compared with 24 per cent of their male colleagues.
But while harassers were more likely to be men, bullies were more often women.
Within hours of the report’s publication, parliament was in uproar over disrespectful behaviour, with Liberal senator David Van accused of making dog-like growling noises when independent Senator Jacqui Lambie was speaking. Van denied he had growled but apologised for making a noise.
On Wednesday night, Greens senator Lidia Thorpe also apologised in parliament after shouting a sexualised slur at Liberal senator Hollie Hughes. Thorpe called out during an argument with Hughes: “At least I keep my legs shut.” Thorpe’s colleague Sarah Hanson-Young has been subjected to such slurs and called them “slut-shaming”.
Liberal MP Jason Falinski said this amounted to the same.
Thorpe issued a statement, saying she regretted using “inappropriate language” and had apologised unreservedly.
The Jenkins review was commissioned after former government adviser Brittany Higgins alleged early this year that she was raped in a ministerial office in Parliament House in 2019. Another former adviser, Bruce Lehrmann, has been charged over the alleged incident.
Now a visiting fellow at the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at the Australian National University, Higgins welcomed the Jenkins review.
“I want to thank the many brave people who shared their stories which contributed to this review,” she said. “I hope all sides of politics not only commit to but implement these recommendations in full.”
The day after the report was published, Morrison asked minister Alan Tudge to stand aside and ordered an investigation after Rachelle Miller made detailed allegations of abuse against him.
On Thursday, Miller made a lengthy public statement, describing what she said was emotional and – on one occasion – physical abuse during an affair she had previously described as consensual but now says was “more complicated”.
Miller is in mediation after launching civil legal proceedings earlier this year against Tudge and Attorney-General Michaelia Cash, alleging workplace harassment. She first disclosed the affair in the ABC Four Corners program last year.
“I was so ashamed, so humiliated, so scared, so exhausted,” she said on Thursday. “I told the small part of my story I was able to manage.”
Deciding to speak further this week, she described an incident in which she alleged Tudge talked her into a night of drinking during a work trip to Western Australia.
She said she woke naked in his hotel room in the early hours unable to remember what had happened. She alleged he had told her to “get the fuck” out of his bed and physically kicked her onto the floor because her ringing phone was disturbing him.
“I was completely under his control,” she said. “He … [created] a bubble of isolation around me that took me away from all my family and friends. The bullying, intimidation, harassment I experienced with him at work completely destroyed all of the confidence I had in my ability. I did not believe I’d find a job anywhere else.”
In a written statement, Alan Tudge said: “I completely and utterly reject Ms Miller’s version of events.”
Later, he said he had evidence that contradicted her allegations.
“I will make available both myself and all materials and co-operate in every way,” he said.
Morrison told parliament that the issue was “deeply distressing” for Miller, the minister and their families, and that the serious claims needed to be resolved “fairly and expeditiously”. He had asked his department to establish “an independent and fair” investigation, led by former senior public servant and intelligence specialist Dr Vivienne Thom.
Speaking through her lawyers, Miller welcomed the move.
In her earlier statement, she insisted her allegations were “not about revenge”.
“It has never ever been about that,” she said. “I still sometimes feel sorry for him. It’s about ensuring that no one else goes through this in this workplace ever again. It’s about changing a system that enabled this to happen. We should not have to fight. We have no fight left. Why is it up to the women survivors to fight for change?”
Karen Middleton made a submission to the Jenkins inquiry.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on December 4, 2021 as "Exclusive: Joyce booze warning".
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