ABC Afternoon Briefing – vaccine, culture in Parliament House

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time now for my afternoon panel. Liberal MP Fiona Martin and Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and Development Amanda Rishworth, welcome to both of you. I want to start with you if I can, Fiona. Australia has vaccinated 100,000 people a few weeks into the vaccination roll out, but will the government really reach it’s target of four million by the end of March given the pace we’re seeing?

FIONA MARTIN, MEMBER FOR REID: I think it is really important here to focus on the fact that Australia is in a very strong position compared to other countries around the world, particularly the US and European countries. Australia has successfully suppressed the coronavirus, so that is something that we need to be very clear about. We have done an incredible job at suppressing the virus here on Australian soil. And we have been able to source AstraZeneca vaccine, we will be manufacturing it in Melbourne, in fact, this month. 50 million doses will be produced. So I think in the scheme of things we are doing incredibly well and we are in a very privileged position, especially compared to countries in Europe like Italy who sadly have clocked 100,000 deaths, which is devastating for the country. And so I think that we should be feeling confident, because we are in a very strong position with the vaccine.

KARVELAS: Amanda, are you confident that the government will meet its own deadlines?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: I am not confident, I am quite worried and increasingly worried now that it sounds like even the shifting deadline in April. And look, it’s one thing to say that we are doing better around the rest of the world, we are, but Australians have their hopes pinned on a new normal after the vaccine is rolled out. And if other countries are being able to vaccinate their populations at increasing speed and getting back to that new normal, then we will be left behind. Particularly if the government keeps making these commitments to the Australian people, who are hoping so desperately to get to a new normal, and then missing those deadlines. So I am quite worried. I am also concerned that we are seeing State Governments, including the Health Minister in New South Wales indicate his concern around the Federal Government’s responsibility and not meeting their targets when it comes to aged care. So look, I hope the government can roll this out but I am becoming increasingly concerned that they are just not going to even come close to meeting their targets, which is going to put us behind the eight ball internationally.

MARTIN: Let’s just be clear, in New South Wales we haven’t had a case for over 50 days –

KARVELAS: Doesn’t mean they don’t want to be vaccinated. No there are consequences in terms of borders and all sorts of things. But I want to park the vaccination if I can because we have got eight minutes and I have so many issues for you both. Fiona, I’m going to ask you a question first. The Prime Minister said that Christian Porter is “an innocent man under our law” and that he will return to work as Attorney General. Which, of course, many people are saying hang on a minute we need to at least establish an independent inquiry. Why not ask the Solicitor General for some advice on this?

MARTIN: The Attorney General has worked with the New South Wales police –

KARVELAS: No he hasn’t been interviewed by the New South Wales police, he hasn’t worked with them at all.

MARTIN: The New South Wales police have closed the case and the Attorney General denies allegations –

KARVELAS: Sure he denies them, but they can’t be tested right, so the question I have is why not ask the Solicitor General for advice?

MARTIN: Well no one is above the rule of law –

KARVELAS: No that’s why you ask the Solicitor General for advice.

MARTIN: No one is above the rule of law –

KARVELAS: But doesn’t the Solicitor General provide you advice as the government about options?

MARTIN: People are innocent until proven guilty, no one is above the law. The New South Wales police have investigated it and have closed the case.

KARVELAS: Can I just ask, how would asking the Solicitor General for advice on this be above the law?

MARTIN: This is where the New South Wales police have actually investigated this –

KARVELAS: But that wasn’t my question, how would asking the Solicitor General about this be above the law?

MARTIN: No one is above the law –

KARVELAS: No how would it be above the law to ask for advice from the person who is meant to give legal advice?

MARTIN: The Attorney General has denied the allegations. The matter has been investigated by the New South Wales police and it is closed.

KARVELAS: But the Attorney General has never been asked for an interview, has he?

MARTIN: I’m not privy to that.

KARVELAS: Well I am, he hasn’t been interviewed by New South Wales police.

MARTIN: As I said, no one is above the law, I’m not above the law, you are not above the law –

KARVELAS: I am certainly not, but I know that the Solicitor General provides advice. Why not ask for it?

MARTIN: That is not a matter for me to decide.

KARVELAS: No, but do you think it would be a good idea for the government?

MARTIN: I think it is important that cases are investigated, but I also think it’s incredibly important that no one is above the rule of law and that people are innocent until they are proven guilty. If we start doing this then we are going to get into a very dangerous place where people who are alleged for crimes, are treated as criminals until they are proven guilty. What a dangerous world that would be.

KARVELAS: Amanda Rishworth?

RISHWORTH: I think that the Prime Minister is not living in the same world as the rest of us if he thinks this is just going to go away because he says it is going to go away. And speaking with a lot of people, they want to be confident that the Attorney General, that these allegations have been at least examined, and that they are confident that he is a fit and proper person to actually be the first law officer of the country. So if the Prime Minister thinks this is just going to go away, then he really needs to think again and start listening to people. There is a confidence issue out there around these allegations, it is not going to go away. And so really I think it is incumbent on the Prime Minister to take whatever steps he needs to do to reassure people that this matter has been looked at and that the Attorney General is a fit and proper person to be the first law officer of this country.

KARVELAS: I want to bring you in Fiona, because the Financial Review is reporting that Minter Ellison Chief Executive will leave the law firm after its board decided her position was no longer tenable in the wake of an email she sent to staff about the firm acting for the Attorney General. What do you make of that development, this woman moving on from her job because she sent this email?

MARTIN: I am only just thinking about this, but I think that that is a matter for her, not a matter for the Prime Minister himself or the Attorney General. That is a matter for her and that is her decision.

KARVELAS: What do you think, Amanda Rishworth? It’s breaking this afternoon, but it is an unusual situation.

RISHWORTH:. Look I can’t profess to say what has happened within the company of Minter Ellison, obviously there has been a difference of opinion. I can just talk about the principles that people are entitled to legal representation and of course law firms make those decisions internally about who they represent and who they don’t. So apart from that I am not able to make any comment. There has clearly been a disagreement that has gone on within the law firm about whether or not they should have taken on Christian Porter the Attorney General as a client.

KARVELAS: Fiona, if I can zoom out and just ask you, what sort of feedback are you getting, particularly from women at the moment in relation to all of this? Because in my own life, all of the allegations swirling around Parliament at the moment –

MARTIN: Well can I just say –

KARVELAS: I will ask the question first and then I do want you to speak of course. Women are red hot and angry in my own experience and my life, on the text line, on my radio show. They feel like your government is not taking these issues seriously.

MARTIN: Can I just say that it’s been a particularly difficult time for people who have been victims of sexual assault and harassment, and how important it is to acknowledge that. But I also think it is incredibly important to have this conversation without a doubt and I think that we can do better when it comes to the culture. And if you are referring to other matters in relation to alleged sexual assault in Parliament, we can do better. But this is not just about politics, it’s not about the Liberal Party or the Labor Party or what goes on in Parliament House, this is a societal issue and this is about respect for women. And yesterday the Minister for Women Marise Payne announced a new campaign, Stop it From the Start, which is about early intervention and education for parents and young people, and it starts from the beginning when they are young. So it is about respect for women in our society. And of course the Prime Minister has announced that Kate Jenkins will be investigating the culture of Parliament House and she will be interviewing former and current staffers, Senators and MPs to look at the culture, to improve the culture of Parliament House. And that report will be made public in November this year.

KARVELAS: There is a piece that has got up online from a former Labor staffer who worked for the Prime Minister, who talks of this toxic, misogynistic, power imbalanced culture which has disproportionately affected women and has clearly severely affected her. It’s been published, she put her name to it Amanda Rishworth. If you haven’t already read it I urge you to but she says there problems on your side of politics too. Do you acknowledge that?

RISHWORTH: Absolutely I have never and I don’t think anyone in Labor has suggested that this is just one side of politics or another. And that’s why you had Labor people actually calling for an independent inquiry, not just wanting to see the Liberal Party investigate itself, but actually called for an independent inquiry across the whole Parliament, for staffers and people who have worked in the building to come forward. So I certainly have acknowledged that it is not just one side of Parliament, that we do need to change the culture of Parliament House, and I agree with Fiona, across society, where those power imbalances actually exist. And so I think an important step is for this inquiry to occur. I would encourage any staffers on any side to come forward and tell their story –

KARVELAS: So I want to get this clear, are you saying for instance to this staffer and others, come forward and tell the stories that have happened in Labor as well?

RISHWORTH: 100 per cent, I would suggest that anyone that has experienced this type of treatment should come forward and participate in the inquiry, because that is the only way we are going to get a full account of what is occurring, and importantly, a pathway forward to changing the culture. So I certainly would encourage anyone from all sides of politics to come forward to share their stories. I think it is going to be a very important inquiry and one that will have recommendations and a pathway forward that I think will be incredibly important.

KARVELAS: Fiona, you are chairing the Select Committee on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, a lot happening in this space. What are you hoping to achieve?

MARTIN: Well, the landscape has changed since COVID-19 and the bushfires, so we really want to look at a number of issues, but one of them is the mental health workforce capacity. We know that we need more people who are qualified to work in that space, so looking at ways to incentivise young people to work in mental health would be something that I would like to look at. And also being able to standardise across professionals with suicide risk assessments and follow up, which is so incredibly important. As we work towards zero suicides in this country, we must do better to address our suicide rate. And so I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues on both sides to address this issue and to do better for our country.

KARVELAS: Absolutely Fiona, I would like to get you on to talk about that a bit more next time. Thank you to both for joining me this afternoon.


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