Australia’s former home affairs minister said Tuesday a male colleague used to breathe down her neck as she spoke in parliament, becoming the latest woman to question the country’s political culture.
Karen Andrews, now a senior conservative politician, said when she raised the unnamed man’s behaviour with others she was asked: “Can’t you take a joke?”
The macho nature of Australian politics was highlighted in late 2021 when a scathing review found the country’s halls of power rife with heavy drinking, bullying, and sexual harassment.
Similar criticism flared again earlier this year, when two politicians from different sides of the aisle accused the same conservative senator of sexual assault.
Andrews, who will retire at the next election, added her voice to the chorus of condemnation in an interview with Australian broadcaster ABC.
“I did have one of my male colleagues who used to breathe on the back of my neck in question time,” Andrews said when asked if she had experienced harassment in parliament.
“I’d just be sitting there minding my own business and I would have the back of my neck breathed on.
“And if I asked a question, it would be: ‘That was a great question, thrusting and probing’… that sort of stuff.”
A broad review published in November 2021 found that one in three people working inside Australia’s Parliament House had experienced some form of sexual harassment.
The same review, by the Australian Human Rights Commission, also found a laddish culture permeated the building, fuelled by frequent bouts of heavy drinking.
Although Australia has increased the number of women sitting in parliament, it has done so far slower than other countries.
In 1999 Australia had the 15th highest proportion of women in its parliament, according to rankings compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
By 2022 it had slipped down the table to 57th place.