SYDNEY, Australia — When Julia Banks arrived in Parliament five years ago after a successful career in law and business, she felt as if she’d stepped back into the ’80s. Alcohol flowed freely. She occasionally smelled it on the breath of male lawmakers when they voted.
Many men in Australian politics also thought nothing of belittling women, she said, or spreading sexual rumors. More than a few treated junior employees like playthings. Once, Ms. Banks said, a fellow lawmaker introduced a new intern while slowly rubbing his hand up and down the young woman’s back.
“I could see her visibly flinch,” Ms. Banks said. “She and I locked eyes, and I’m sure the nonverbal cue to me was ‘don’t say anything, please don’t say anything, I’ll lose my job.’”
“It is the most unsafe workplace in the country,” she added.
Australia’s #MeToo moment has arrived, late but strong, like a tsunami directed at the country’s political foundation. Six weeks after a former legislative staffer, Brittany Higgins, accused a senior colleague of raping her in the defense minister’s office, thousands of women are standing up to share their stories, march for justice and demand change.
finishing a book about bias, said she encountered the low hum of disrespect at one of her first fund-raisers, where she discovered she was not on the speakers’ list. It was all men.
from 15th to 50th in the world for parliamentary gender diversity. The parliamentary delegations of the conservative Liberal and National parties, which govern with a slim majority, are more than 80 percent male.
Contributing to the fraternity vibe, Canberra is a part-time capital. Votes are often called after 6 p.m., and families are left behind in local districts, since the legislature only sits for 20 weeks a year. When it’s busy, Parliament has often been compared to a gentleman’s club, though to some, it’s more Peter Pan at the pub.
Sarah Hanson-Young, a Greens party senator, said male rivals would often shout across the chamber the names of men she was falsely accused of sleeping with.
“It was like a game these blokes were playing with just the most intense level of scorn,” she told Ms. Ellis for her book “Sex, Lies and Question Time.”
Ms. Hanson-Young sued a Senate colleague, David Leyonhjelm, for defamation after he shouted “stop shagging men” at her on the floor of the chamber in 2018. She recently won a $120,000 judgment against him but endured death threats along the way.