Former home affairs minister Karen Andrews has alleged a male colleague used to breathe on the back of her neck during question time.
Ms Andrews, a Liberal MP who is retiring at the next election, has revealed some of the inappropriate behaviour she was subjected to at parliament house.
“I’d just be sitting there minding my own business and I would have the back of my neck breathed on,” she told the ABC’s Kitchen Cabinet program due to air on Tuesday night.
“And if I asked a question, it would be ‘that was a great question, thrusting and probing’.”
Ms Andrews said some people asked her if she could “take a joke”.
“Sometimes I do call it out, but sometimes I just go ‘I can’t be in every fight’,” she said.
Ms Andrews said politics was the first time being a woman meant she had to “fight for things”.
“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,” she said.
Housing Minister Julie Collins said such behaviour should not occur in parliament.
“That is appalling, I was not aware of it, and I am very sorry that that has happened,” she told ABC Radio on Tuesday.
“It shouldn’t happen to anybody in any Australian workplace, and the Australian parliament should be setting the standard.
“We need better from everybody that works in that building, and that’s why we’re so determined to improve the conditions for the people that work in the parliament house.”
The Senate is debating laws stemming from the Set the Standard report by former sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins, which recommended a parliamentary workplace support service to provide confidential help with misconduct or harassment.
The review of the culture at parliament house was prompted by rape allegations levelled by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins.
Liberal frontbencher Simon Birmingham said he had not previously heard about Ms Andrews’ allegations.
Senator Birmingham, who as minister rolled out the initial reforms stemming from the Australian Human Rights Commission report, said people should use the new services.
“I urge anybody in this circumstance to use that service that has been established to provide for an independent, impartial, credible and confidential process,” he told reporters in Canberra.
Asked whether the Liberal Party’s internal processes needed a rethink, he said MPs should feel free to raise any issues with the leadership team.
Ms Andrews has previously called on her party to immediately attract more female candidates into winnable seats to increase its chances at the next federal election.
She was appointed to the speakers’ panel by Speaker Milton Dick on Tuesday, which means she could be asked to take the chair of the house as deputy speaker.
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