The Broderick Report and responding to sexual harassment in the workplace

On Friday 12 August 2022, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet released the findings of an independent review into bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct of the Parliament of NSW. The review was conducted by former sex discrimination commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick.

The Broderick Report can be found here: Independent Review into bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct at the Parliament of NSW

Some of the key findings and statistics announced on Friday included that 3 men and 2 women had disclosed that they had experienced attempted or actual sexual assault in the past 5 years and prevalence was highest amongst people who identified as having a diverse sexuality. 20% of members had also stated that they had experienced sexual harassment and 28% of respondents to the review, revealed experiencing bullying. Given the size of the workforce of parliamentary staff members across NSW, it is reasonable to assume that similar statistics and experiences would exist in large government and non-government workplaces right across Australia.

These findings are quite startling, particularly given the highly regarded positions held by our parliamentarians and the important work done by senior staffers. The review found that:

“Key drivers of harmful behaviours include: the unequal distribution of power between parliamentarians and staff; the underrepresentation of women and diverse cohorts in formal decision-making roles; the unequal distribution of accountability and inconsistent behavioural expectations; and the highly pressured and political nature of the working environment”.[1]

However, another interesting and somewhat surprising outcome of the Broderick Review was that there appeared to be a distinct lack of knowledge and awareness around a policy framework relating to the management of bullying and sexual harassment. A key finding was that “those who were aware had limited confidence in the ability of current policies to either prevent or respond meaningfully to harmful behaviours”.

Unsurprisingly, and something that we see often in the workplace investigation space, is a finding that there was a low level of knowledge and trust in the reporting arrangements for these harmful behaviours. There was a particular concern relating to “confidentiality and a perceived high risk of retribution or negative career impacts for those who report…” This is a common concern for staff across many industries and workforces when considering if they will raise a workplace complaint about a colleague or manager.

The Number 1 recommendation following the Broderick Review was to make “prevention and early intervention a leadership and organisational priority in all NSW Parliamentary workplaces”. While this ‘prevention is better than a cure’ approach might sound like common sense, many workplace leaders in Australia fail to intentionally create and encourage an environment that is safe, inclusive and addresses workplace issues at the earliest opportunity. As noted in the review, leaders at all levels need to be making a visible commitment to eliminate harmful behaviours, while also holding themselves, colleagues and staff to account.

The Broderick Review also highlighted the need for an ‘enabling policy environment’ and a ‘safe reporting environment that is human-centric and trauma-informed’. While these are key recommendations for NSW Parliamentary workplaces, they too are highly valuable principles for all workplaces to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for all. If employees are well-versed and informed of what harmful behaviours might look like and how they will be addressed under workplace policies such as Codes of Conduct, it strengthens the ability for staff to recognise these behaviours as they occur and may encourage others to speak up if they witness such conduct. Further, staff should feel comfortable to report and act on concerns as they occur, be confident that their information will be kept confidential where required and that their concerns will be treated seriously and sensitively. As noted in the review:

“A safe reporting environment creates an encouraging environment for people to come forward, disclose an incident, seek support and in certain circumstances, request that a matter be investigated. It also sends a signal to all workers that harmful behaviours will not be ignored”.[2]    

So while the findings and conclusions of the Broderick Review made some concerning and somewhat surprising revelations about the inner workings of our parliamentary workplaces, the key principles and recommendations that followed provide sound advice for workplaces everywhere – particularly those where its leadership are serious about eliminating those harmful behaviours that can so seriously impact an organisation’s most important assets – its people.

Weir Consulting (National) (WEIR) has developed an AWARE unit to provide training and support to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, modify entrenched behaviours and deliver services to address sexual harassment complaints. For more information click here: WEIR – Sexual Harassment & Sexual Misconduct Unit


Author: Luke Naividi is an experienced workplace investigator and lawyer with a strong background investigating allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct across all levels of government and non-government sectors.       

Nia Elovaris, Senior Consultant, & Amanda Harvey, Director can be contacted regarding the AWARE service offerings, which include complaint triage and anonymous and confidential reporting services, as outlined here Sexual Harassment, Misconduct and Interpersonal Boundaries.

[1] Broderick E, et al. Leading for Change Independent Review of Bullying, Sexual Harassment and Sexual Misconduct in NSW Parliamentary Workplaces, 2022, p5.

[2] Ibid, p7