The Federal Government has been shaken by another sexual harassment claim, this time it involves Member for Mallee, Anne Webster who this week made a formal complaint about a so far unnamed person who allegedly harassed her in Parliament House.
The community has been watching events unfold in Canberra, as scandal and allegation after allegation surface, and now the issue has landed firmly in our own backyard, with Dr Webster’s allegation coming to light.
“In the current climate, honestly, you would have to be living under a rock not to know that this kind of behaviour is totally unacceptable,” Dr Webster said.
“And while I’m not divulging the identity of the person concerned, believe me the incident horrified my staff and my family and it’s not okay, and to be that deaf to what is going on, is really inappropriate.”
Dr Webster has remained tight- lipped since the alleged incident took place in Parliament House, declining to say if the person is a member of parliament or what party they maybe involved with.
“Sadly the anger out there is significant, and when I spoke to the Young Nats at the National’s Federal Conference held in Canberra on the weekend about this issue and not just my experience, but also the issue more broadly, the Young Nats women made it quite plain that they were angry,” Dr Webster said.
“I spoke with them about the fact that this isn’t about emasculating men, it’s about ensuring that we use this moment – this pressure point – to bring about change.
“If we are going to have respect as our fundamental workplace values, then it behoves both men and women to change.”
Dr Webster said that Nationals Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, had asked her to take on the responsibility of being the go-to person for the party – for both current and former staff and MP’s and Senators – to be able to discuss any allegations or issues they were having.
“Look, I didn’t step into politics to take on subjects like this, but clearly that’s the job,” she said.
“And so if I can encourage change and better relationships in workplaces across Australia, then I am very pleased to do that.”
On Sunday in an appearance on the ABC’s Insiders, Victorian Senator Sarah Henderson raised the possibility of random drug and alcohol testing being introduced to Parliament House, something Dr Webster said wasn’t a factor in the incident she experienced.
“In regard to my experience, drugs or alcohol wasn’t a factor – it was quite early in the day and so it wasn’t involved,” she said.
“In principal I am not in favour of that because I think it is a breach of privacy, however, we have those random tests for surgeons, police and a variety of other vocations, so why not have it in Parliament House?
“But in general terms, we need to develop a better corporate management of parliament and politics.
“It’s so complex and it’s very easy to say, but difficult to do, because of the federated nature of our parties and the fact that Parliament House is an entity in itself – it’s not simple.”
Dr Webster said she was supportive of using external HR departments, which she said could be useful in improving workforce behaviour.
“Having training on not just empathy but managing people. There are courses that I wasn’t even aware were available to me as an MP,” she said.
“So there’s a lot of knowledge that I think people need to gain and to be aware of – just as in the corporate world – you should have to ‘tick-off’ your training and actually complete training for management of staff and OH&S, and so HR I think is a really important component that needs to be externally managed.
“I think what is telling, is that young women are stepping up, including my own daughter, and saying “this is appalling and it has got to stop.”
“We have the opportunity to change and we need to grab it with both hands.”