A prominent Australian politician says she has been subjected to ongoing harassment inside the nation’s parliament.
Former cabinet minister Karen Andrews alleges an unnamed male colleague used to “breathe on” her neck and make crude remarks in the lower house.
Australia’s parliament has been marred by reports of widespread sexual misconduct.
In February, both houses agreed to new codes of conduct for MPs and staffers.
“I’d just be sitting there minding my own business and I would have the back of my neck breathed on and if I asked a question, it would be: ‘That was a great question, thrusting and probing,'” Ms Andrews told the ABC.
“But do you know what the issue is? Well, there would be people that would say: ‘Can’t you take a joke?’… and sometimes I do call it out, but sometimes I just go: ‘I can’t be in every fight.'”
Ms Andrews was one of the most senior women in Scott Morrison’s former coalition government, serving as both the minister for industry and the minster for home affairs.
She has repeatedly spoken out about the harsh treatment of women in federal politics and earlier this year she announced she would retire at the next election – which will take place by 2025.
A former mechanical engineer, Ms Andrews spent her pre-political career in male-dominated industries, but says it was only in parliament that she faced gender-based discrimination.
“I went to politics and it was the first time I’ve ever felt I had to fight for things simply because I was a woman,” she told the ABC.
Earlier this year, Ms Andrews’s then Liberal party colleague Senator David Van faced three allegations of sexual harassment – including two from fellow MPs Lidia Thorpe and Amanda Stoker.
Mr Van strongly denied the complaints and remains in parliament, despite being dismissed from the party.
The accusations sparked renewed debate about the safety of women working in government – an issue that has plagued Australia in recent years.
In 2021, former Liberal party staffer Brittany Higgins went public with allegations that she had been raped metres from the prime minister’s office by a co-worker after hours in 2019.
The allegation prompted an independent workplace review by the former sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins, which found that one in three people working in parliamentary offices had experienced sexual harassment.
The report also detailed widespread bullying and incidents of actual or attempted sexual assault.