Week in Review

‘Mind boggles’ at failure of Parliamentary Service

A woman who worked in the past for MP Jami-Lee Ross tells how the Parliamentary Service let her and others down in failing to act adequately on his bullying and misbehaviour.  

It’s easy to see how people might view the most recent investigation into what is understood to be allegations of misconduct by Jami-Lee Ross as just the latest in a long series of scandalous dramas. Politicians aren’t exactly strangers to having their dirty laundry aired and, after all, it’s election-year where a bit of political gossip never goes amiss.

But this story is about so much more than that. It’s about predatory behaviour by a repeat offender that no one seems to be doing anything about. Knowing that as many as three more of Jami-Lee Ross’ staff have allegedly fallen prey to his behaviour is deeply distressing as someone who was also victim to it. How on earth has this happened again?

Six women bravely came forward in late 2018 to tell of their experiences working for Ross; I was one of them. It took courage, but I did it knowing that while I couldn’t change what I had been through myself, I might be able to prevent it happening to others in the future. Oh, how wrong I appear to have been.

The Parliamentary Service, employer of all parliamentary staff, has failed once again in its duty of care and instead put more people at risk. It’s now clear it is sitting behind a brick wall, caring more about the interests of the MP than the staff it’s supposed to represent. Knowing what it does about the many harrowing experiences Ross’ former staffers went through, the mind boggles as to what the Parliamentary Service has been doing to allow this to happen again. Not much, obviously.

When I was first hired, I was interviewed only by Jami-Lee Ross. I don’t recall talking to the Parliamentary Service (my actual employer) until I was offered the job and even then, it can’t have been a noteworthy conversation because I have no real memory of it. I was very young, doing a job that dealt with vulnerable constituents on a daily basis which required maturity and compassion and yet, from day one, I had no support. I was dealing with incredibly sensitive matters without any guidance, and the service couldn’t have cared less when I raised these concerns with them.

Unlike Ross’ other staffers who raised the issue of bullying and misconduct with the Parliamentary Service, I never was brave enough to do so. Plus, having heard the experiences of others, I knew nothing would be done. You were simply told to either put up with it or pack your bags and quit. The reality was, I loved my job when Ross wasn’t in the office, so I did what most young women would do: I allowed the bullying and abuse to continue.

It’s difficult to label the treatment I received. The only way to describe the bullying was as a constant chipping and grinding away at me. I was singled out and embarrassed in front of my colleagues and treated differently to them. My appearance was constantly talked about, and he’d make sleazy and sexual comments about me to men. He even compared my weight to other women and said he’d prefer I wore a skirt over pants in the office. I was made to feel guilty about taking coffee breaks and my colleagues would report back that he would talk about me while I was gone. Then there were the continuous put-downs, even in front of constituents, dismissing work that I’d spent days on, and frequent fault-finding in anything I did. I was made to feel worthless and useless.

I suffered on the days that Ross was in the office at the same time as me, and I would feel sick driving to work knowing that he was going to be there. Even when I knew I wouldn’t see him on a particular day, I would dread his phone calls or emails. My confidence had been knocked out of me, and it took me years to recover. As a bright, hard-working young woman, I didn’t deserve that. I should have been supported but I wasn’t, and my mental health suffered severely. Leaving my role was one of the best things that I could have done.

Jami-Lee Ross has once again painted himself as the victim in response to the most recent reports of alleged misconduct and bullying. 

This is particularly hard for me to digest, because it completely dismisses the experiences of all those who have been brave enough to speak out against him. For Ross to suggest the complaints are politically motivated is to insinuate there is no substance to the allegations, which in turn belittles what I and so many others have been through.

We don’t know how the Parliamentary Service is handling the current investigation because it refuses to comment, but considering three more staffers may be in this situation, it’s probably fair to say  nothing has changed. So, I hope we don’t minimise this as just a bottom-of-the-barrel story, because if any of the staffers feel at all the same as I did, then they will be vulnerable and broken. Like me, they deserved better, but particularly so in the aftermath of Ross’ behaviour being exposed over a year ago.

If nothing changes, this will continue to happen, and more people will be at risk. Exactly what the Parliamentary Service should do to rectify all of the damage it has done, I don’t know, but this I know for sure: it needs to apologise to the staff it has let down, finally hold Jami-Lee Ross accountable and, most of all, it needs to do its damn job and look after its people.

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