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Former Coalition minister Karen Andrews’ claim that a male colleague breathed down the back of her neck during question time has been labelled appalling by the country’s new sex discrimination commissioner and prompted criticism over the pace of reforms addressing MPs’ conduct.
Andrews, who was home affairs minister under former prime minister Scott Morrison, told ABC’s Kitchen Cabinet in an interview to be aired on Tuesday night that she also endured lewd remarks that she did not believe she could always call out.
Karen Andrews says she was treated inappropriately by a male colleague in parliament.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
“I’d just be sitting there minding my own business and I would have the back of my neck breathed on,” she told ABC journalist Annabel Crabb.
“And if I asked a question, it would be, ‘That was a great question, thrusting and probing’ and, you know, that sort of stuff.”
New sex discrimination commissioner Dr Anna Cody said systemic change was still needed in parliament following her predecessor Kate Jenkins’ landmark review into parliamentary culture.
“Yes, it appalls me that any woman, any person would have to experience that breathing down the neck,” she said.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has not commented on Andrews’ claim.
Liberal frontbencher Simon Birmingham said on Tuesday morning this was the first time he had heard the allegation but urged anyone suffering ill-treatment to access the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service, set up as a result of Jenkins’ Set the Standard report.
“This workplace, like any other workplace, should be one of respect of safety, and it does now have proper processes in place to deal with any issues,” Birmingham said.
Last week, independent MP Kylea Tink said she had been spoken to aggressively by a male opposition MP on the floor of parliament, leading Speaker Milton Dick to warn parliamentarians they had fallen short of expected standards of behaviour.
An independent parliamentary standards commission will be established to enforce code of conduct complaints against MPs and their staff, but its implementation has been deferred from October to February.
Greens spokesperson for women Larissa Waters said despite both houses having endorsed codes of conduct, there was still no independent body to enforce it.
“Work to set up that body that will enforce those codes … is complex, but there is no doubt it’s been too slow,” she said.
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