Politics with Michelle Grattan

Former MP Kate Ellis on the culture in parliament house

February 23, 2021

The revelation of the alleged rape of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins and subsequent allegations of sexual misconduct have sparked multiple inquiries into the culture of parliament house. 

It's a subject on which Kate Ellis is an expert. Ellis was a Labor MP from 2004 to 2019, and held various ministries in the Labor government. She was then – and still is – the youngest person to become a federal minister.

Ellis retired to spend more time with her young family.

Her coming book, Sex, Lies and Question Time, published in April, discusses the history of women in parliament, their triumphs, but also the adversities faced by female parliamentarians and staff. It draws on contemporary accounts.

Ellis describes her time as a parliamentarian as "the best job in the world" but says "if you're a woman in our federal parliament, you are treated differently than if you are a man."

She chose to "overstep the line" as an employer, when she was a minister, to warn staff of the hazards of the life and culture around parliament.

"There are several occasions where I would sit my staff member down and actually play more of a maternal role...kind of talking about the culture, making sure that they were okay and making sure that they knew that they could come to me.

"Now, that's not the traditional role of an employer. Normally what people do outside of their strict work hours is up to them. But just having seen enough of the Canberra culture, I felt that it was my responsibility to play that role. And it's something that I did on a number of occasions."

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