Sarah Hanson-Young seeks legal advice. David Leyonhjelm should seek help to understand why he's offensive

Sarah Hanson-Young seeks legal advice. David Leyonhjelm should seek help to understand why he’s offensive

Sarah Hanson-Young
Greens Senator, Sarah Hanson-Young is seeking legal advice over disgusting comments made by independent Senator David Leyonhjelm.

And she’s doing it as a matter of principle, she told Virginia Trioli on ABC’s 7:30 last night.

“I’m doing this because the women on the factory floor or the flight attendant who has things like this hurled at her, comments made, harassment in the workplace, many of those women can’t stand up. Many of those women are made to feel intimidated into silence and it’s time that ended,” she said.

“If we can’t clean it up in the nation’s Parliament, where can we do it? We must be better than this,” she said.

Hanson-Young has been in the Senate for ten years this week, entering at the age of just 25. The mutterings started early. She’s often been told to change the way she looks and speaks, and is criticised for not smiling. The name of men are hurled across the chamber in an attempt to shame her. “For years I’ve said nothing,’ she said.

Like many women, she tried to ignore them, hoping they would simply stop. Perhaps hoping that Parliamentarians would mature, with time.

And following #MeToo and the significant rise in women calling out sexual harassment in the workplace — and some men even reporting that the #MeToo movement has gone so far they now worry about mentoring women (as ridiculous as that sounds) — Hanson-Young may have thought that midway through 2018, things would be different.

But it seems Senator Leyonhjelm didn’t get the message. He made the slut-shaming slur in Parliament last week, and repeated it on Sky News over the weekend.

Senator Leyonhjelm also attempted to defend the comment in an interview handled magnificently by Trioli prior to her conversation with Hanson-Young last night.

“If she chooses to take offence that’s her business, they weren’t intended to be offensive to her,” he said. “I can’t see any reason why she would take offence.”

And it’s that comment that demonstrates exactly why MPs need training on sexual harassment in the workplace. The fact he can’t see why Hanson-Young would be offended by the comment says much about his knowledge and empathy for what women experience every day.

Earlier this year, the Department of Finance, which takes care of the official employment relationship for staffers working for Senators and MPs, revealed it’s reviewing its sexual harassment policy. That came following Kristine Ziwica’s excellent investigation for Women’s Agenda finding that the existing harassment policies covering staffers were incomprehensible.

Such policies clearly need to extend further than protecting the staff working for members of Parliament.

In April, the Herald Sun reported that not one Australian politician has completed a training course aimed at stamping out sexual harassment in Parliament. Created four years ago as part of the Commonwealth’s settlement with staffer James Ashby over his sexual harassment claim, it’s incredible to think money and time was invested in creating such a course that nobody could be bothered to complete.

At the time, the Herald Sun also revealed that just 13 parliamentarians had attended face-to-face sessions on sexual harassment, made available following the Ashby settlement.

It wasn’t that long ago that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared there were some “very serious issues about the culture” of Parliament that must be addressed.

“I think many women in this building, who work in this building understand very powerfully what I am saying,” he said.

They do, and Hanson-Young is stepping up in speaking openly about it.

And if the lawyers are needed to clearly demonstrate this point, then so be it.

The Parliament is a workplace, and those participating in it deserve to be safe and free from sexist slurs, especially those made as some form of defence mechanism when losing an argument in the chamber.

“I have an eleven year old daughter, and boy do I hope the world is a better place by the time she enters the workplace,” Hanson-Young told ABC Radio National this morning.

We can only hope it becomes a better place well before that.

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