The stressful, 24/7 nature of parliamentary work that is typically marked by power imbalances and immense loyalty makes it open to bullying and harassment behavior, Speaker Trevor Mallard says.

The nature and extent of that behaviour will come under scrutiny in a major independent external review, Mallard announced today.

While the review had been planned for some time, it has been given renewed impetus following the sexual assault scandal surrounding Russell McVeigh, allegations of bullying behaviour against Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross - who denies acting improperly - and Dame Laura Cox's report into bullying and harassment in the UK's House of Commons.

It also follows the demotion of Meka Whaitiri over allegedly manhandling a staff member, though Whaitiri disputes aspects of the incident.

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The National Party is also reviewing its practices to ensure a safe working environment following the fallout with Ross.

"Bullying and harassment are unacceptable in any workplace, including at Parliament," Mallard said.

"I don't think you'll find any party is exempt from these issues. Part of it comes from the intense loyalty and teamwork that parties do.

"I'm absolutely certain that within each of the parties, people don't complain about for example being bullied into doing extra hours, or harder work, or stuff which is at the margins because of their loyalty to the sub-team that they work for. We've got to work out where those limits should be better than we do now."

Debbie Francis and Speaker Trevor Mallard announcing the external review into bullying and harassment of staff at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Debbie Francis and Speaker Trevor Mallard announcing the external review into bullying and harassment of staff at Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

He said the review, which will cost $150,000 to $200,000 from existing budgets, would be very conscious not to re-victimise people who came forward, and will have an "absolute assurance" of confidentiality.

The review will look for trends of behaviour from the start of the 51st Parliament, which started in October 2014.

But Mallard said any person who came forward with a historical case would not be turned away.

Debbie Francis will lead the review, supported by law firm MinterEllisonRuddWatts.

Francis has led a major culture change programme across the New Zealand Defence Force, has delivered change projects across the public and private sectors, and was lead partner for PricewaterhouseCoopers People and Change practice.

She defined bullying as "repeated intentional inappropriate or offensive behaviour against an individual or group that causes physical harm or emotional harm".

"It's not the odd loose joke or robust political debate - that's part of a healthy democracy."

The review will encompass staff from Parliamentary Service, the Office of the Clerk, Ministerial and Secretariat Services/Department of Internal Affairs, contract staff and former staff.

No one will be compelled to participate.

"I would expect, as with any workplace culture, particularly one that's 24/7, that's stressful, that includes people who are in a bit of a bubble, and that includes power imbalances, that we'll find behaviours that are less than acceptable," Francis said.

She said people were free to disclose what information they wanted, but she would not publish individual incidents in her report.

"I'm looking for the patterns, trends, and people's suggestions for improvement
Are there barriers in the way of making a complaint, or disclosing bullying or harassment? That's the sort of thing in scope here, not individual incidents."

Complaints to the review may end up with the police or human resources, but Mallard said the review would not provide that information.

"If people want to make complaints, they will be assisted by people who do counselling with them, and will be supported in any complaints they choose to make.

"But no material given to the review will be available to human resource or to the police. At the end of the process, all of the material other than the final review will be destroyed."

Francis said harassment of MPs or staff by members of the public - including death threats on social media - were also in scope.

She may ultimately recommend including Parliamentary Service to be subject to the Official Information Act to improve behaviour.

Staff and former staff are invited to participate via secure online survey, one on one interviews with Francis, focus groups, or in writing via secure email of letter to a PO Box.

The findings will be published once the review has been concluded - expected in May next year.

• Former staff who wish to contribute to the review can find information on the Parliament website
• For access to an online survey, to provide a written submission, or to set up one-on-one interviews, contact debbie@francisreview.nz

Staff access to support:
• 0800 PP ASSIST (Parliamentary People Assist Line for access to trained counsellors)
• 0800 044334 or text 4334 (to talk to a trained specialist in sexual harm 24/7, via Safe To Talk)