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"Immediate" inquiry launched into harassment at SA Parliament

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South Australia’s Equal Opportunity Commission has finally been granted permission to launch an inquiry into the prevalence of harassment at Parliament House – three months after a report was supposed to be handed down.

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Acting commissioner Emily Strickland said her office would immediately launch the review, after the House of Assembly yesterday carried a motion in support of the move.

The motion, put up by Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, calls on the commission to undertake the inquiry “into the response to complaints made about harassment in the parliamentary workplace”.

It asks for the review to consider barriers to reporting all forms of harassment and the way past incidents have been handled by Parliament.

Strickland has also been asked to identify any policy gaps that should be addressed “in the interests of enhancing protection against and providing appropriate responses to harassment”.

Chapman told parliament yesterday that she was “confident that it (the terms of the review) captures what members of the parliament wish to see”.

“Consulting the acting Equal Opportunity Commissioner is evidence that this matter needs to come to a conclusion,” she said.

“There is value in both houses agreeing to a review being undertaken to ensure that all members have the opportunity to contribute if they wish.”

It comes after Treasurer Rob Lucas in August said that funding the $152,873 investigation would pose an “issue” for the budgets of the House of Assembly and Legislative Council.

The inquiry, first requested by the Legislative Council in February, was due to finish in August, but the commission was unable to start investigating until it received permission from the House of Assembly.

Labor MP Katrine Hildyard, who unsuccessfully attempted to move a similar motion in the House of Assembly last month, said sexual harassment was experienced by “way too many women in workplaces and in other areas of life”.

“Unfortunately, our parliament is no exception,” she said.

“Our South Australian community has been somewhat perplexed about why particular sorts of inappropriate behaviours occur in parliament with little to no consequences for perpetrators, whilst if other workers engaged in them, they would be sacked.”

Strickland said all MPs and Parliament House staff would be given the opportunity to take part anonymously in the review.

She said she would not be investigating specific incidents, rather the prevalence and handling of harassment at Parliament.

“People working in Parliament House are entitled to an environment that is safe and respectful, and which provides clear procedures to report, investigate and address allegations of inappropriate conduct,” she said.

“The public is also entitled to look to Parliament as an example of a workplace which does not tolerate harassment and which has mechanisms in place to make people accountable for inappropriate behaviour.”

The inquiry comes as ex-Liberal MP Sam Duluk faces a basic assault charge over an alleged incident at a Parliament Christmas party last year.

Parliament last month passed changes to legislation that allow judicial officers or members of parliament to lodge sexual harassment complaints about their colleagues with the Equal Opportunity Commissioner.

A similar parliament-instigated inquiry is also being launched into prevalence of harassment within South Australia’s legal profession.

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