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"A betrayal of their confidence": EO Commissioner rejects call for SA Parliament police inquiry

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A police investigation into allegations of sexual assault in State Parliament would “betray” MPs and staffers who spoke out on the condition of anonymity, the Equal Opportunity Commissioner says following a call from the State Opposition.

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Interim Commissioner Steph Halliday, who on Tuesday released a damning review into sexual harassment and assault in State Parliament, told InDaily that alleged victims of sexual harassment and assault participated in the review on the basis that their identity would be kept “in the strictest confidence”.

She said launching investigations, other than at the victims’ request, would be “a betrayal of their confidence”.

It comes after Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas yesterday afternoon called for SA Police to be provided with “all the access they need” to investigate “criminal” sexual assault allegations revealed in the in the Equal Opportunity Commission’s review.

The review revealed allegations of male MPs crossing the chamber to rub their legs against female MPs, a male MP putting his hand “really far up” a staffer’s skirt and a man exposing himself in front of his co-workers.

Malinauskas told reporters yesterday that the allegations “speak to criminal conduct occurring in the Parliament of this state” and the review “demands further action”.

“I am certainly supportive of Police being provided all the access they need so as to establish the veracity of these allegations, but most importantly, weed out any perpetrators should they exist within the Parliament,” he said.

Malinauskas acknowledged that a police investigation was not one of the Commission’s 16 recommendations and for a police investigation to have “any practical effect”, it would require victims to speak willingly to police.

But Halliday said the review “respected the privacy of the individuals who had spoken about their experiences” and participants were aware of their option to make a police complaint.

She said the participants might not have made complaints for “any number of reasons”.

“Having fulfilled its mandate to undertake the review, the Commission considers that it is a matter for Parliament to consider and implement the recommendations made in the report, including providing autonomy to victims,” she said.

“Launching investigations, other than at a victim’s request, would be a betrayal of their confidence.”

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, whose motion in the House of Assembly sparked the review, said yesterday that it was up to victims of sexual harassment and assault to make complaints to police when and if they felt comfortable.

“That is a matter, in fact, for the complainant if they wish to take it further,” she said.

In response to Halliday’s comments, Malinauskas this morning reiterated concerns that the review “outlined allegations of criminal behaviour by parliamentarians and staffers”.

“This is not only inappropriate in any workplace, it is illegal,” he said.

“We must not have a Parliament where this behaviour is tolerated.

“I reiterate anybody who commits sexual assault should face the full force of the law.

“The Government must ensure that any person who has been a victim of sexual assault in Parliament is given all the support they need to make appropriate decisions about referring matters to police.”

A spokesperson for Malinauskas told InDaily this morning that he was yet to contact police directly to request an investigation.

A SA Police spokesperson said: “South Australia Police is aware of the Equal Opportunity Report into harassment in SA Parliament and encourages anyone who has been a victim of a crime to report the matter to police where they can be confident their report will be investigated appropriately”.

According to the Equal Opportunity Commission review, over 27 per cent of South Australian MPs or their staffers who responded to a survey experienced sexual harassment at least once at work.

The review noted six alleged incidents of sexual harassment “might otherwise be considered assault”.

One victim alleged they were subjected to low-level sexual harassment by two MPs that then escalated to alleged sexual assault by one MP.

The same victim alleged they were also sexually harassed by a staff member.

Acting Equal Opportunity Commissioner Emily Strickland wrote that as the Commission does not have “systemic investigative powers”, including  the power to request documents or information, the review was “limited… to using the information voluntarily made available by participants”.

Of the 850 MPs and staffers who qualified to take part in the review’s survey, only a quarter chose to do so.

Strickland wrote that one MP replied to correspondence from the Commission stating they had “no interest in participating in the review and should be removed from the review’s mailing list”.

If this story has raised issues for you, you can call 1800 RESPECT, which provides support for people impacted by sexual assault or abuse.

You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14. 

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