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Ex-Liberal staffer: Survivors weren’t asked about their ordeals in NSW parliament

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A former NSW Liberal staffer who raised issues of sexual misconduct says major political parties are complicit in the toxic culture outlined in a landmark report on the state’s parliament.

Dhanya Mani, an advocate for sexual assault survivors, alleges she was sexually assaulted by a male Liberal staffer between 2014-2015 when she was working in the parliament.

Ms Mani is sceptical any structural change in breaking a misogynistic and toxic workplace culture in NSW  Parliament will occur, after an independent report by former sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick was handed down this week.

“Given that there wasn’t any consultation with survivors, it feels like it’s quite a tokenistic reply to that report from both sides (Liberals and Labor),” she told AAP after the report’s release.

“The priority isn’t being trauma-informed and choosing to stand with survivors, the priority is scoring political points.”

‘Staggering and disappointing’

She accused the major parties of paying lip service in their response to the report.

“It’s really staggering and disappointing that neither (party) leader bothered to reach out to survivors and doesn’t seem to have tried to learn,” Ms Mani said.

In June, Premier Dominic Perrottet and Opposition Leader Chris Minns acknowledged Ms Mani by name as a sexual assault survivor in their response to the NSW Ministerial Offices Respectful Workplace Policy.

But two months on, the 28-year-old feels both parties have stopped short in enacting tangible reforms that make parliament a safe workplace.

The Broderick report found sexual harassment and bullying were rife in the parliament.

It said five people had reported an attempted or realised sexual assault, while more than one in four experienced bullying in the past five years, with several unnamed offices identified as “hotspots” for the behaviour.

Ms Mani is unsure if her allegation was included in the report.

Harassment from above

More than two-thirds of respondents (67 per cent), the report said, noted sexual harassment was perpetrated by someone at a more senior level.

“I just felt so extraordinarily alienated. People (Liberal Party staffers) told me that I should be in a relationship with my perpetrator in the attempted rape that occurred,” Ms Mani said.

“I didn’t feel that I could afford to say no. I was scared of the consequences of angering this person.

“I was seen as a risk rather than as a person.”

Ms Mani is the only survivor on the NSW Parliament Advisory Group on bullying, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct established in March 2021 and comprised of politicians and parliamentary staff.

Her membership came about after lobbying efforts by Greens MP Jenny Leong and after meeting with former premier Gladys Berejiklian.

Ms Leong on Friday was stinging in her criticisms of the oldest parliament in Australia as an exclusionary space.

‘Toxic, sexist … unsafe’

“Parliament is a toxic, sexist and at many times unsafe workplace – nobody inside the institution needed this report to know this,” Ms Leong said.

Ms Mani agreed and noted it was harder for sexual assault survivors to trust calls for reforms stemming from the parliament.

“Due to the lack of safety within leading institutions, there’s every good reason for survivors to not feel sufficient trust in the processes of an internal review,” she said.

“Unless we start empowering survivors of sexual violence … to be decision-makers and we’re not just constantly handing the reins over to people who have been a part of the problem … then nothing will change.”

-AAP

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