Parliament is the most visible employer in the country, the one place that ought to be a model of the laws it passes and the practices it preaches. So there should be intense interest in the results of the inquiry Speaker Trevor Mallard launched this week into bullying and sexual harassment in the offices along the corridors of power.

It is just a pity the appointed inquirer, Debbie Frances, has said she will not be publishing particular incidents in her report, which will focus on general patterns and trends and make recommendations to improve the workplace. To encourage staff to be candid to her she has promised total confidentiality to the extent that all submissions would be stored on a separate IT system and will be destroyed, along with all the inquiry's files, at the end of the review.

That is a pity because bullying is a term that can cover a wide range of behaviour. It is important to combat bullying but it is equally important to ensure both sides of the employment relationship recognise a reasonable threshold for complaint. Being asked to work harder is not necessarily bullying.

The Speaker is concerned that, among other things, party loyalty might stop people at Parliament making complaints when being pressured into doing extra work or longer hours. He already thinks Parliament has a problem. While things had changed in the 30 years since he became an MP, he said, "I'm not absolutely convinced attitudes are quite where we would expect them to be now." He wants to ensure the institution is following best practice, "and I don't have confidence that at the moment we are".


The only known recent incidents that have prompted this inquiry is the case of Meka Whaitiri, suspended as Minister of Customs while an inquiry was held into her treatment of a press secretary, and complaints from women against Jami-Lee Ross who turned out to have mental health issues.

The first incident has already had an inquiry and the details it revealed did not sound very serious. Whaitiri seized the press secretary by the arm to demand why she had not got her into a photo opportunity with the Prime Minister who was talking on television nearby. She left a bruise on the staffer's arm. It is hard to put errors in perspective without appearing to condone them, but that did not sound like it warranted a minister's suspension.

Attitudes are changing, however, and everyone need to know how strict standards have become, especially older managers who have come through the ranks in a different culture. A good, clear, balanced report from Parliament's inquiry, with detailed, though unidentified, examples, would be a useful guide for the country.

Today we reveal bullying accusations from former staff against a National MP, Maggie Barry, who has contested them. The precise allegations range from swearing at staff and calling an employee "stupid" to expecting them to do her party work during office hours. The latter charge, if true, may be in a category more serious than "bullying", swearing and verbal abuse, less so.

It is important to get these terms in perspective. An inquiry that simply bundles them all into a bullying box and proceeds to recommend a code of perfection is not the enlightenment many workplaces may need.