Systematic bullying among Parliament staff, inquiry finds

CHRONIC bullying and harassment is rife in Parliament House, a Senate committee says.

CHRONIC bullying and harassment is rife in Parliament House, a Senate committee says.

Many confidential submissions to the Senate finance and public administration committee have documented what it calls "disturbing" evidence of a "systematic and organised form of bullying" entrenched in the Department of Parliamentary Services.

While not adjudicating on individual cases, some of which are being considered by Fair Work Australia, the committee has highlighted some allegations that include:

Use of performance management systems and code-of-conduct investigations as tools to bully staff who questioned management decisions, with unsubstantiated claims and innuendo being used.

Bullying at staff meetings in the form of derogatory comments. For example, staff members being told they were "too stupid to be given a task".

Derogatory comments made about staff in emails which were forwarded to other staff.

Staff ostracised by being moved to accommodation a significant distance from their team.

Incidents of alleged sexual harassment treated as a source of humour in the workplace.

Senior executives in the department have denied any problem, even though staff surveys indicated one in five staff had been bullied, one in three had witnessed bullying and only one in three thought management was effective.

The Senate committee, chaired by Labor senator Helen Polley, concluded that "the long-term prevalence of bullying and/or harassment points to poor leadership".

Veteran Labor senator John Faulkner triggered the inquiry when senior departmental officers were found to have misled a Senate committee by fabricating a heritage assessment after two heritage billiard tables were sold to parliamentary staff in 2010 through an online auction website.

The department's head at the time, Alan Thompson, later apologised for providing "misleading and inaccurate information" to the Senate, adding that his department's conduct was "inconsistent with our commitment to serve the Parliament honestly, diligently and competently".

Nearly $100,000 was spent on reviews arising from the sale of the tables, which yielded only $2000 after auctioneer and removalist fees were paid.

Mr Thompson subsequently took early retirement and many of the department's senior executives have now been replaced as a result of administrative changes that have been implemented by the department's new secretary, Carol Mills, a former senior New South Wales public servant.

She has assured the Senate of her determination to pursue wide-ranging reforms.

Senator Faulkner described the Department of Parliamentary Services as "the worst administered government department I have seen in the time I have served in the Parliament".

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