Prominent Australian politician Karen Andrews, a former cabinet minister, has come forward to disclose the persistent harassment she endured within the nation’s parliament. Ms. Andrews alleges that an unnamed male colleague repeatedly subjected her to unwelcome advances, including breathing on her neck and making crude remarks while in the lower house. Her revelations shed further light on the longstanding issue of sexual misconduct in Australia’s parliament, a problem that has garnered significant attention in recent times.
Australia’s parliament has been marred by reports of widespread sexual misconduct, prompting both houses to take action in February by agreeing to new codes of conduct for MPs and staffers. Despite these efforts, Ms. Andrews’s account serves as a reminder of the pervasive nature of harassment faced by women in politics.
Ms. Andrews, who was one of the most senior women in Scott Morrison’s former coalition government, held roles as the minister for industry and the minister for home affairs. She has been an outspoken advocate for addressing the mistreatment of women in federal politics. Earlier this year, she announced her decision to retire at the next election, set to take place by 2025.
Prior to her political career, Ms. Andrews worked as a mechanical engineer in male-dominated industries. However, she notes that it was only in parliament that she encountered gender-based discrimination. “I went into politics, and it was the first time I’ve ever felt I had to fight for things simply because I was a woman,” she expressed to the ABC.
This revelation comes in the wake of previous allegations within the Liberal party, as Senator David Van, a former colleague of Ms. Andrews, faced three accusations of sexual harassment earlier this year, including complaints from fellow MPs Lidia Thorpe and Amanda Stoker. Despite the allegations, Mr. Van has vehemently denied them and continues to hold his position in parliament, albeit having been dismissed from the party.
The accusations against Mr. Van reignited discussions about the safety of women working in government, an issue that has plagued Australia in recent years. Notably, in 2021, former Liberal party staffer Brittany Higgins publicly disclosed allegations of rape by a co-worker just meters from the prime minister’s office in 2019. This shocking revelation prompted an independent workplace review led by the former sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins, which revealed that one in three individuals working in parliamentary offices had experienced sexual harassment. The report also highlighted widespread instances of bullying and incidents of actual or attempted sexual assault, emphasizing the urgent need for reform in the Australian political landscape.