United Kingdom

Kate Ellis lifts lid on 'toxic' culture in parliament as former Labor MP releases book

Former Labor MP Kate Ellis says she constantly received death and rape threats during her time in office.

Ms Ellis, who became the youngest federal minister at the age of 30, made the startling revelations as she released her new book 'Sex, Lies and Question Time' on Sunday.

The book details the experiences of Ms Ellis and other female politicians who claim they endured a culture of systemic inequality, sexism and sexual harassment.  

Ms Ellis says she had to bat away rumours of having an affair with a male advisor in office and steel herself against vile and sexual slurs that included a staff member asking her point blank: 'how many blokes you f***ed in order to get into parliament.'

Former Labor MP Kate Ellis says she constantly received death and rape threats during her time in office

Ms Ellis says she had to bat away rumours of having an affair with a male advisor in office and steel herself against vile and sexual slurs that included a staff member asking her point blank: 'how many blokes you f***ed in order to get into parliament'

Ms Ellis says she was casual and calm while showing the death threat to her husband David Penberthy (pictured), as she had grown used to this type of behaviour

'There's this casual misogyny that shows up in a whole range of ways,' Ms Ellis told ABC.

'People are rewarded in politics for bad behaviour. If you undermine someone, then you're more likely to be promoted.' 

Ms Ellis was elected as the MP for Adelaide in 2004, before becoming the youngest Australian to enter federal politics after then-Labor leader Kevin Rudd appointed her minister for youth and minister for sport in 2007.

Among her many achievements in parliament was introducing a national quality of standards for childcare and helping to shape the national plan to combat violence against women and children.

Though it was on her first day in office when Ms Ellis encountered her first obstacle because of her gender.

She says security guards had stopped her using the MP's entrance into parliament because they mistakenly thought she was just a staff member.

'I think that contributed to a massive impostor syndrome,' she told Stellar.

'Like I started believing 'What am I doing here? Should I really be here?' 

A vile rumour then began to circulate about Ms Ellis when she was just 18 months into her new job. 

Gossip had been spreading that Ms Ellis and a female chief of staff were having an affair with a male advisor in 2009.

Ms Ellis suspects it was started by a member within her own party in a bid to undermine her.

Although there was 'zero' truth to the rumour Ms Ellis was pushed to the point where she 'begged' a news editor to not publish the story.

Ms Ellis was elected as the MP for Adelaide in 2004, before becoming the youngest Australian to enter federal politics after then-Labor leader Kevin Rudd appointed her minister for youth and minister for sport in 2007

The 43-year-old also had to deal with slurs from the community and says she received rape and death threats online and even in the mail

'I promise I've never even kissed him,' she recalled saying at the time.

'I still cringe when I think how pathetic it was that I was begging.'

The rumour was just the start of a long uphill battle Ms Ellis faced during her time in parliament. 

'Focus on physical appearance is much greater for women, focus on their private lives, issues around motherhood, slut-shaming, personal attacks, rumours and gossip used to undermine women in a way men don't have to face to the same extent in parliament,' she told ABC.

Ms Ellis was out for drinks with her colleagues when a staff member approached her and said: 'Kate, the only thing anyone wants to know about you is just how many blokes you f***ed in order to get into parliament.' 

The 43-year-old also had to deal with slurs from the community and says she received rape and death threats online and even in the mail.

Ms Ellis also had to deal with slurs from the community and says she received rape and death threats online and even in the mail

Although Ms Ellis endured years of this kind of behaviour she admitted she only realised how 'toxic' the workplace was when she left politics in 2019

'I had a death threat once that was personally delivered to my doorstep when I was a single 30-something woman living on my own.' 

One email she received she decided to show her husband, veteran journalist and now-editor-in-chief of News Limited David Penberthy. 

Ms Ellis says she was casual and calm while showing him, as she had grown used to this type of behaviour. 

'I made the mistake of showing it to Dave, who went into a rage,' she said.

'I was kind of calming, saying, 'We're having a fun Friday night. We're clearly in a better place than this bloke.' He just couldn't believe that was something we dealt with.' 

Although Ms Ellis endured years of this kind of behaviour she admitted she only realised how 'toxic' the workplace was when she left politics in 2019. 

'It's really strange how when you leave the parliament and re-enter normal life that you slowly start to realise how the rest of the world operates,' she said.

'Things that I used to accept were part of the job are really not OK.'

Ms Ellis spoke to Stellar where she claimed she endured years of sexism during her time in office

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