Independent Review reveals bullying and harassment in Parliament

The ‘Francis report’, the final report of the External Independent Review into Bullying and Harassment in Parliament, has been released. I think that it was well known that there were some serious problems with behaviour in Parliament. This report confirms it.

Reviewer Debbie Francis:

This Report traverses sensitive matters within one of the most complex and demanding workplaces in New Zealand. The story goes as much to the health of our democracy and New Zealanders’ pride in their Parliament as it does to matters of employment, health, safety and workplace culture.

My findings need to be addressed with care and the solutions recommended here are complex and wide-ranging. For these reasons I encourage readers to take the time to read the Report in its entirety.

The Story in a Nutshell

  • Bullying and harassment are systemic in the parliamentary workplace.
  • The story is complex, involving harmful behaviour by and between staff, managers, Members,
    media and the public.
  • There are unique features of the workplace that create risk factors for bullying and harassment,
    – A high-intensity culture
    – Lack of investment in leadership development
    – Unusual and complex employment arrangements
    – Largely operational, rather than strategic, workforce management
    – Health, safety and wellbeing policies and systems that are not yet mature
    – Barriers to making complaints; and
    – Inadequate pastoral care.
  • Unacceptable conduct is too often tolerated or normalised.
  • The identities of many accused are an open secret, and there are alleged serial offenders.
  • A core perceived problem is low accountability, particularly for Members, who face few sanctions
    for harmful behaviour.
  • The leadership roles and profiles of Members, Ministers and chief executives provide them
    opportunities to be important role models by:
    – Setting and modeling expectations for dignified and respectful conduct
    – Holding colleagues and staff to account for their conduct
    – Investing further in the development of leaders and managers
    – Reforming the employment model, professionalising the workforce and further investing in
    strategic human resource management
    – Establishing new independent bodies and processes for complaints and investigations; and
    – Extending the provision of pastoral care.
  • The changes needed to the culture of the parliamentary workplace are comprehensive and
    complex. They will require skilled implementation and must be sustained and monitored over a
    period of years.

Some complaints have been classified as ‘extremely serious’. Francis on about what complainants can do now:

This Report is based on the patterns and themes that emerged from these submissions, interviews and discussions. I am reporting here on the perceptions of participants, where I found consistent patterns in their responses.

As will become clear, I received many accusations of harmful behaviour made against individuals, staff, managers and Members, some of whom were regarded by complainants as serial offenders.

My role as reviewer was not to investigate any new or historic complaints – as per the Terms of Reference. However, any such new or historic complaints are not prevented from being progressed by complainants in the appropriate avenues open to them.

I have ensured that any respondents who indicated they wished to take steps outside the Review process regarding any such concerns were provided with information about the avenues for that, and the support available to them, in order to do so.

Full report: Independent External Review into Bullying and Harassment in the New Zealand Parliamentary Workplace – Final Report

Speaker Trevor Mallard:

The Speaker said today “This review was commissioned to establish if the parliamentary workplace is a place where harmful behaviour occurs, and in some cases is supported by the system. The report confirms this harmful behaviour occurs, and recommends changes that can be made to ensure the system does not enable or support this behaviour.”

“Together with the agencies and all political parties, I am committed to making changes to ensure the parliamentary workplace is free from harmful behaviour. We will now consider the report’s recommendations. The issues in the report will not be a quick fix and any solutions will need to have input from those affected and address the systemic issues.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern:

“The findings of this report are rightly being taken very seriously. Parliament, like any other workplace, should be free from bullying and harassment and we need to make improvements.

“In response to the report, I have asked to receive regular reports from the Department of Internal Affairs and Parliamentary Services on how offices are working generally as well as any exceptional reports where an issue needs to be raised with me promptly.

“I will also share this information with the Labour Party to ensure a joined-up approach in any action that may be taken as a result of these reports.

“While I acknowledge we work in an environment of long hours and pressure, excuses won’t be tolerated.

“At Cabinet and Caucus I have reiterated my expectation that we treat one another with dignity and respect”.

Parliament has set a very poor example of behaviour. It won’t be easy to change what has too often been an abusive and toxic environment.


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  1. Trevor Mallard has admitted that in the past his own behaviour.

    1 News: Speaker Mallard regrets some of his past behaviour as an MP, after report finds ‘systemic’ bullying in Parliament

    “I think I have acted inappropriately on occasions yes”.

    “I reflect back on some of my behaviour as an MP and I regret it and I have certainly worked harder in recent years to behave appropriately at all times.”

    Good on him for acknowledging that his own past his own behaviour has at times been ‘inappropriate’.

    And good on him for commissioning this report and having a go at fixing the problems.

  2. Newshub: MPs accused of treating staff like servants in bullying review

    It revealed one staffer said they had to buy clothing for an MP and then got yelled for not ironing it. Another cleaned up an office after a party, “with my boss sleeping it off on the couch”.

    There was also harassment based on sexual orientation, with respondents complaining about “constant sniggering and joking about gays”.

    Generally, the bad behavior comes from a well-known small group of MPs described as “the few who are various shades of s**ts”.

  3. Reply
  4. Reply
  5. Ray

     /  22nd May 2019

    It is amazing that we hold young provincial rugby players to much higher standards than our Parliamentary representatives!
    This judging by RadioNational reporting this morning.
    Of course it doesn’t help that the Speaker (poacher made gamekeeper) has quite a reputation in this department already.

  6. Gezza

     /  22nd May 2019

    Personally I think this has been a PR exercise & doubt this report will change anything.

    • Corky

       /  22nd May 2019

      Like rugby culture, they talk in terms of PC speak. Sounds great. Seems like something is being done…but behind the PR it’s business as usual. An added problem is parliament is always in a state of flux with governments, mp’s and staff coming and going.
      There seems little chance of developing a stable work culture within parliament that carries over from one election cycle to the next.

      • Gezza

         /  22nd May 2019

        A classic case in point would be OIA requests. During the early years of the Clark Administration there was insistence from the government & a very strong Public Service commitment to responding to OIA requests as fully & promptly as possible.

        From memory I think they may have even upped the staffing of the Ombusdman’s Office to speed up reviews where Departments had withheld or redacted information the requester had sought.

        Subsequently, over succeeding terms, reportedly getting noticeably worse with the Key administration, & it seems perhaps continuing with Ardern one, the most notable thing about OIA requests seems to have become how tardily they are routinely dealt with now & how hard it is to get access to full information sought.

  7. Zedd

     /  22nd May 2019

    I saw John Campbell interviewing ‘Speaker Mallard’ (Breakfast show TV3) he confirmed that there is likely, a current MP, who has either sexually harassed (OR even raped) staff ??

    There is a culture of bullying & treating staff ‘as servants’. Will it change ?
    We shall see… :/

    • Zedd

       /  22nd May 2019

      maybe more than one MP ??

      also rumours about some female MPs, have very aggressive/domineering natures !

      • Gezza

         /  22nd May 2019

        They appear to be saying the bullyng culture in Parliament will take years to fix.

        How long did they give Russell McVeagh to fix theirs?

        The problems of extreme power imbalances & the public service HR system seeing itself as being there to support the management, not the staff, is unlikely to change in any significant way, imo.

        It would be extraordinarily difficult to establish a case of bullying and harassment & seek redress when those in authority are so easily able to pass off continual crticism & picking on staff as “performance feedback” for a “non-performing staff member” or “a robust discussion” etc.

        When it is done by MPs it looks like it is entirely up to the Party leader whether they will sanction an offending MP or not, & those decisions will be political. If a leader slams an MP for misbehaviour, what are the ramifications in caucus if it comes to leadership votes?

        Several MPs were identified in this report as serial offenders. What is being done about that? As far as I can tell, people who have been to powerless to use the existing systems to do anything about addressing their behaviour or the bullying behaviour of other Parliamentary managers or staff have been told to use the existing systems to address their behaviour. Ludicrous.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  22nd May 2019

          Russell McVeagh seemed to be a case of heavy drinking and unsavoury sexual activity between consenting adults, the female participants being portrayed as victims. There is a real double standard here, I think.

    • Zedd

       /  22nd May 2019

      TV3 news says a ‘Staffer’ was stood down.. pending an enquiry (not a MP). BUT Mallard says there will not be Police involvement, unless complainants come forward ??

  8. Alan Wilkinson

     /  22nd May 2019

    As I’ve said before, if you want a bad employer, work for the government …

    • Blazer

       /  22nd May 2019

      Govt sinecure is coveted..Al…without gummint work a number of big law firms (just 1 ex)would be…gone.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  22nd May 2019

        Oh yes, Govt consultancies are geese perpetually laying golden eggs while feeding off Govt incompetence. That’s quite different from suffering under it as an employee.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  22nd May 2019

          I worked for the government and it was all right. I liked going to the Beehive and into the Minister’s office which was a pleasant change from the office. I was fairly minor, I must say, and although I wrote ‘ministerials’ to be signed by the then Minister, these were the very routine ones, not as grand as it sounded.

  9. duperez

     /  22nd May 2019

    Paula Bennett’s gone full feral trying to be the great protector of the women in the House Parliament but more importantly play it for all the politics she can.

    She can try to sound as upset as she wants by throwing the word ‘rape’ around and blame Mallard for the fear he has brought to the place by using the word. Apparently he said he believed the bullying report alleges rape in Parliament
    “Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard says some allegations made to a review into bullying and harassment at Parliament amounted to rape.”

    I suppose Bennett read the report. I wonder if she came top the same conclusion as the Speaker. I wonder if she did but wasn’t going to use the word ‘rape.’ She has been throwing it around bitterly this afternoon condemning Mallard.

    The situation is serious and calm wise, mature heads are needed. Paula Bennett seems better suited to dealing with the lower level stuff, you know, like privacy issues and personal information.


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