Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe has aired allegations of sexual harassment against two federal Senators and two MPs, revealing she has been followed, persistently hassled to go out to dinner, and on the receiving end of unwanted physical contact.
During her six months in federal parliament, she says the harassment has reached a point where she no longer feels safe to be alone, inside parliament house at night.
Speaking on Tuesday, Senator Thorpe recounted an example of when one male MP came to her office, looked her up and down and said “I want to take you out for dinner”. The man later called her office repeatedly to ask why she hadn’t accepted the offer.
She described how one Senator often waited to walk behind her in the corridors, and that he also put his arm around her when walking into the senate chamber.
She also described other incidences of suggestive remarks from male parliamentarians, including comments about what she was wearing and what she was eating.
“These are men that write our laws – men that should know better. What they’ve done is violating behaviour. It’s physical. It’s sexualising, objectifying behaviour – it makes me feel physically sick,” she wrote on social media on Tuesday.
“But the truth is, as women, too often we feel like we need to keep men’s secrets. We sit down, we laugh it off, we shut up. We indulge these men in our homes, in our workplaces, in our community. But it’s got to stop.”
I’ve spoken out today because like so many of us, I’m sick to death of this shit.— Senator Lidia Thorpe (@lidia__thorpe) March 23, 2021
As a Blak women, and as an elected representative of the people, I’m not going to shut up. I’m going to do my part to hold these men to account. Because enough. is. ENOUGH.
She said the harassment from the male politicians had “put fear into me”, and after finishing Senate estimates at 10pm recently, she felt the need to call her partner in Melbourne and stay on the phone as she walked back to her office.
Senator Thorpe’s allegations of harassment come as three women have alleged they were bullied while working for Western Australian state MP Matthew Hughes.
Janelle Sewell and Sally Spalding who worked for Hughes, a Labor MP, at varying times between 2017 and 2020, said they were forced to leave their jobs after facing bullying, put-downs and denigration.
Sewell recounted an example, telling WA Today, of an experience in 2019 when Hughes began swearing and banged her desk with his fist.
Meg Travers also chose to leave her job with Hughes after a three-month probation period in 2017.
The women say they feel let down let by Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan, who has backed Hughes and said he is a “decent man”. Matthew Hughes has denied the allegations.
These accounts from women in state and federal politics follow an apology from Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday night, when he conceded he should not have shared the details of sexual harassment complaint. Earlier on Tuesday, during a heated exchange with a journalist, Morrison had suggested an incident of sexual harassment had occurred at Sky News. Sky News later said no such complaint exists.
Meanwhile, Industry Minister Karen Andrews told ABC’s 7.30 program on Tuesday night that she thought Morrison could have handled the ongoing saga over the past month about the treatment of women in politics differently.
“The last month, in particular, has been horrendous for me, for many other people here in Parliament House,” she said.
Andrews said she had been horrified by the culture at Parliament House when she was first elected ten years ago, and chose to avoid the “strong drinking, partying culture”.
“Many women here do feel quite socially isolated. We aren’t included in many of the discussions that happen, whether that be in relation to matters that are being debated, in my case in the House or more broad discussions about policy issues, simply because we aren’t in other people’s offices socialising,” Andrews said.