Forty per cent of staff working in parliamentary offices say they have experienced bullying or harassment in the past 12 months, but the overwhelming majority don't feel confident to speak up, or even know how to make an official complaint.
Responding to a survey run by the public sector union in December, before the revelation that a staffer was allegedly raped in a ministerial office came to light, the majority of staff said they didn't feel bullying and harassment were taken seriously by the Department of Finance, or that preventing bullying and harassment was a high priority in their workplaces.
One in 10 said they had experienced violence in the workplace in the past 12 months, the survey of 100 staff, mostly women, found.
Two thirds of staff said they would hesitate to report bullying and harassment in the workplace in case the issue was made worse by their complaint, and 60 per cent said they would hesitate to report witnessing an incident of bullying and harassment in case their career was jeopardised. Half of the respondents said they had witnessed bullying or harassment in the past 12 months, but less than half said they had reported it.
More than half of the 100 staff responding to the survey didn't know what their workplace bullying and harassment policies were, and hadn't been told by the Department of Finance what behaviours constituted bullying and harassment.
Staff in parliamentary offices are technically employed through the Department of Finance, but in the fortnight since Ms Higgins made her allegation public, the department has been criticised as "weak" and toothless, with no real power to protect staff who can be sacked easily by their MP bosses.
Four reviews have been announced in the wake of Ms Higgins' allegation, including an overarching independent review into parliamentary workplaces, the details of which are expected to be announced by Finance Minister Simon Birmingham next week.
Only one in five staff had attended training on bullying and harassment in the past 12 months, and almost 70 per cent said expectations about behaviour weren't covered in their induction to the workplace.
Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Melissa Donnelly said the union had been raising issues of sexual harassment and bullying in every workplace health and safety meeting with the Department of Finance for the past two years, but no action had been taken.
"All workers deserve and should expect safe workplaces. Political staffers should be no different. That's why the CPSU has been pushing for an independent review of work practices and culture and mandatory sexual harassment and bullying training for parliamentarians and senior staff," she said.
"The environments that MoPs staff work in are complex, staff often feel that reporting incidents will go nowhere and would have detrimental effects on their career prospects. The clunky and opaque reporting structures provide little support or confidence to staff that complaints will be followed up appropriately."
Ministerial and Parliamentary staff are currently in a bargaining process with the Department of Finance over a new enterprise agreement for staff, the first offer for which was voted down in December. A proposed claim to be included by the union that would have required the department to protect staff from assault, bullying, and harassment was rejected by the government.