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Former cabinet minister Karen Andrews calls out sexual harassment in Parliament House

Former Coalition cabinet minister Karen Andrews has spoken out about incidents of sexual harassment she experienced from a male colleague in the House of Representatives.

Speaking with ABC political reporter Annabel Crabb on the national broadcaster’s program Kitchen Cabinet, Andrews said her male colleague would often breath heavily on the back of her neck and say crude things to her during Question Time.

“I’d just be sitting there minding my own business and I would have the back of my neck breathed on,” Andrews said.

“And if I asked a question, it would be ‘that was a great question, thrusting and probing’.”

The sexual harassment Andrews said she endured was just one instance of many that were “not workplace appropriate” and fed the former cabinet minister’s lack of belief in things changing for women in politics.

“Do you know what the issue is? Well, there would be people that would say, ‘Can’t you take a joke? Can she not take a joke?’ 

“And sometimes I do call it out, but sometimes I just go, ‘I can’t be in every fight.’”

Andrews entered politics in 2010 after working as an engineer and industrial relations specialist. Although both workplaces were male-dominated, she said it was nothing compared to Parliament House.

“Through all those careers, not once did I think being a female made any difference,” she said.

“But I went to politics and it’s the first time I’ve ever felt I had to fight for things simply because I was a woman.

“It’s depressing. That is depressing. So I don’t know, to be honest, that it’s going to change in my lifetime. And that is really sad.”

Andrews spoke of the workplace culture in Parliament House and said there is quite a bit of socialising out of hours, most of which herself and her female colleagues were not invited to.

“That’s where I found it was really difficult as a female,” she said.

“I wasn’t often invited when my male colleague were having get-togethers… and a lot of strategising would get done in those meetings, and the women who were not invited to it were just never part of it.” 

Andrews, who served as the one of the most senior women in the Coalition government prior to the last election, quit the Liberal frontbench earlier in the year, announcing she would retire at the next election.

In 2021, the Australian Human Rights Commission released the Set the Standard report, based on an Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces (CPWs).

The report found one third of people working in CPWs (33 per cent) have experienced some form of sexual harassment, while 77 per cent have either experienced, witnessed or heard about bullying, sexual harassment and/or actual or attempted sexual assault.

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