Karen Andrews. File Photo. Reuters
Amid an array of sexual harassment allegations against lawmakers in Australia, another member of Parliament revealed recently that she went through persistent harassment while serving in the country’s parliament.
Karen Andrews, a former government minister, has come forward with allegations of inappropriate behavior from an unnamed male colleague during her time in the lower house. She claims that this colleague would invade her personal space by uncomfortably breathing on her neck and would also make crude comments.
These disturbing revelations add to the growing concerns about widespread sexual misconduct within Australia’s parliament. In February, both houses of parliament took action by adopting new codes of conduct for Members of Parliament (MPs) and their staff.
Andrews, a prominent figure in Scott Morrison’s previous coalition government, held key positions as the minister for industry and the minister for home affairs. She has been a vocal advocate for addressing the mistreatment of women in federal politics and announced her retirement earlier this year, with the next election scheduled before 2025.
Before entering politics, Andrews worked as a mechanical engineer in industries traditionally dominated by men. However, she states that it was only in the political arena that she experienced gender-based discrimination.
Describing her experiences, Andrews explained, “While I was just doing my job, I found myself subjected to unwarranted attention and crude remarks. When I raised concerns, some dismissed it with the question: ‘Can’t you take a joke?’ It’s not always easy to confront such behavior, and sometimes, I felt powerless.”
Earlier this year, Senator David Van, a former member of the same Liberal party as Andrews, faced accusations of sexual harassment, including claims made by fellow MPs Lidia Thorpe and Amanda Stoker. Despite denying these allegations, Van remains in parliament but was removed from his party.
These recent allegations have reignited the ongoing discussion about the safety of women working in government roles, an issue that has been a cause for concern in Australia for several years.
In 2021, Brittany Higgins, a former staffer of the Liberal party, publicly disclosed that she had been sexually assaulted by a colleague just meters from the prime minister’s office in 2019.
This revelation prompted an independent workplace review led by former sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins. The review’s findings were troubling, revealing that one in three people working in parliamentary offices had experienced sexual harassment. The report also highlighted instances of bullying and documented incidents of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault.
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