Changing the culture around the reporting of sexual assault and harassment is key to stamping out the sort of "entrenched toxic conduct" exposed in a new report on Parliament House behaviour, the ACT's Victims of Crime Commissioner has said.
Heidi Yates told The Canberra Times that the findings of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins' long-awaited review were shocking but not surprising, given the "alarming" prevalence of sexual assault and harassment across the community.
Ms Yates has used the report's release to urge greater federal government leadership in tackling the broader issue, declaring "this is a moment for change in Australia".
The Jenkins review, triggered by revelations of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins' alleged rape in Parliament House, described a toxic workplace culture characterised by power imbalances, gender inequality and a lack of accountability for perpetrators.
One in three Commonwealth parliamentary staffers who responded to the survey said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment at work.
But just 11 per cent reported incidents of abuse. The report found many staff chose not to report sexual harassment because they didn't believe proper action would be taken, or amid fears that speaking up would damage their career or reputation.
Among the review's 28 recommendations was the creation of a code of conduct for parliamentarians and staffers, which would be overseen and enforced by a new independent complaints-handling commission.
Federal politicians could face sanctions if found guilty of bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault inside the workplace.
Ms Yates said it was essential to create a system and culture in which victims were not just able to make complaints, but were actively encouraged to do so without fear of repercussions - including losing their job.
The report also recommended a review of the act under which political staffers are hired, a move which Ms Higgins has been pushing for.
"We need to change the culture, which the report speaks to, so that it's not only that you can come forward to these new bodies, but we call on you to do so, because this is the only way we can tackle this entrenched toxic conduct," Ms Yates said.
"Fundamentally, it's about this notion that coming forward is actually an act of public service, that the reason I'm coming forward to tell you what's happened to me is because I don't want it to happen to anyone else.
"Without people coming forward, to put on the record what is going on, we can't hold those people using this toxic behavior to account."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked in question time on Wednesday if he could commit to implementing all of the review's recommendations before next year's election.
Mr Morrison did not respond directly to the question from Warringah independent Zali Steggall, but said the issue wasn't a matter for "partisan politics" and he looked forward to working with Labor, minor parties and the crossbench to respond to its findings.
Earlier on Thursday, Labor's spokeswoman for women Tanya Plibersek told ABC's RN Breakfast that the report's recommendations were "very sensible". The opposition would consult with its staff before reaching a final position, she said.
Ms Plibersek said increasing the number of women in parliament and political offices, including in senior positions, would help to change the culture.
"The other thing that I think is absolutely critical here is better support for members of parliament and others to be better leaders and managers of people," she said.
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