Abusive behaviour found at Beehive

An ugly subculture of abusive and bullying behaviour has been revealed in a newly released independent report into employment practices at Parliament.

External reviewer Debbie Francis made 85 recommendations in her 120-page report, which found serious bad behaviour by MPs, staff, managers, public and the media was rife.

Ms Francis said she had not ''cherrypicked'' stories about a bad day or an off-colour joke, or based her findings only on the views of staff released for poor performance or following workplace relationship difficulties.

''Across the hundreds of interviews conducted and the more than 100 submissions reviewed, a clear picture emerges of a small number of members whose behaviours appear to fall well outside the normal range to be expected in a workplace and which closely fit the definitions of bullying and harassment.''

Southern MPs said Parliament was a ''robust'' environment, but that did not excuse bullying and harassment.

''I have never been bullied at Parliament, and there have never been any complaints of inappropriate behaviour against me,'' Dunedin North Labour MP David Clark said.

''I make a real effort to be supportive of my staff, but I realise the issues are real issues.''

It was appropriate that Parliament look hard at bullying culture and respond accordingly, Dr Clark said.

Dunedin South Labour MP Clare Curran, who was interviewed twice by Debbie Francis, wanted time to read and consider the report before commenting further.

''I will say that bullying in this workplace, as in any other, is never OK.''

First-term New Zealand First list MP Mark Patterson said he had found Parliament to be a respectful environment, something he ascribed to his party's good employment record.

''We have one of the lowest staff turnover rates in the House, and I believe that is because we treat our staff with decency.''

Fellow first-termer, Clutha Southland National MP Hamish Walker, said some of the report's recommendations, such as establishing a code of conduct and instituting an independent person to handle complaints, would be beneficial.

He said he had not had any employment issues in his office, which he said was staffed by an energetic and committed team.

His National colleague Sarah Dowie, whose relationship with former National MP Jami-Lee Ross shone a light on claims of bullying in Parliament, said in a statement she wanted to ''read the entire report and digest it'' before commenting further.

''The report delivers some positive and helpful recommendations,'' Ms Dowie said.

''We agree that there is a need for continuous improvement.''

Ms Francis said most MPs and ministers were viewed as hard-working and competent, but found ''a well-known minority of them, across most political parties'', were said to engage in inappropriate behaviour on a regular basis.

MPs' conduct was not alone in being criticised; bad behaviour by managers and staffers was also highlighted.

Ms Francis noted several aggravating factors such as long hours, high pressure, political and professional rivalries, and the confusion caused by staff being employed in a politician's office but their actual employer being Parliamentary Services.

''The tone and culture of New Zealand's Parliament is changing gradually for the better,'' she said.

''The increasing diversity of members and increasing focus on organisational culture by agency leaders are key factors driving positive change.

''But for the health of the parliamentary workplace and New Zealand's democracy, it's time for the process to be fast-tracked.''

Her recommendations included instituting a parliamentary workplace code of conduct that all MPs, staff and the press gallery be subject to, developing an alternative resolution service, improving human resources processes and introducing sanctions to punish poor conduct by an MP or minister.

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

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