ABC Capital Hill – assault allegations, Facebook, vaccines

Monday, 22 February 2021

JADE MACMILLAN, HOST: Well it’s time now for our political panel, and I’m joined by the Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education Amanda Rishworth, and Liberal MP Jason Falinski. Thank you both for joining me. Jason Falinski, how did you feel when you read the reports in the Australian newspaper over the weekend and today, that a second and then a third woman have alleged that they were sexually assaulted by the same man who allegedly assaulted Brittany Higgins?

JASON FALINSKI, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR MACKELLAR: Well I’m not entirely sure how I felt except just numb that this still goes on and that this happened, and it happened here in Parliament House. And I think Simon Birmingham and all parties have been incredibly strong about making sure that this is stamped out. That people, when this does happen, feel that they have the full support of both the Parliament and the people of Australia. And that, most importantly, as Simon pointed out, that we move to make sure that this can never happen again. Because that’s ultimately where we want to get to, that people not only feel that they can go be safe in their workplace, but know that they’re safe in their workplace. And that unfortunately, it’s not been the case here in Parliament House. The one thing I would also say, though, is that there are 5,000 people who work in Parliament House, and I don’t want to minimise this in any way, shape or form, but this is one person, there are 4,999 other people who I’m sure are as appalled today as all of us are about the actions of this one person.

MACMILLAN: Amanda Rishworth, Independent MP Zali Steggall, has said today that her office has been contacted by other former political staffers in the days since Brittany Higgins spoke to the media who say that they’ve had their own distressing experiences. Are you aware of any similar stories? Do you have concerns here?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: Look, I don’t have any specific stories. But there is no doubt that over a long time, there have been cultural issues here in Parliament House, as there have been in workplaces across Australia. What we need to do is make sure that women in particular, but also anyone in this workplace, feels safe, feels protected. And I think we still have a long way to go in addressing those cultural issues about the way each other are respected and treated in this place. And when it comes to an independent inquiry, we’ve certainly called for that, Labor’s certainly called for that. But it needs to have the buy in of everyone. It needs to be someone well respected heading this up. This can’t be a sort of a whitewash, and I am concerned that we are still seeing the whitewash happen about who knew what and when from this Prime Minister. Why wasn’t he told? Why wasn’t there a culture that this would be brought up with him straight away? And so I think there is still a number of issues that need to be addressed.

MACMILLAN: Is there anyone in particular that you would like to see lead that inquiry and what will Labor be bringing to this process as Senator Birmingham conducts his consultations?

RISHWORTH: I don’t have any particular views. There are a number of names, I know Anthony Albanese has mentioned Elizabeth Broderick for example. They need to be well respected and well versed in these cultural issues. And Labor will completely participate in any independent inquiry, because we do need this inquiry, and we do need to see change. But it just cannot be a whitewash, it has to be serious, has to be taken seriously, and it has to have the confidence not only of those working here, but those that have alleged to have been assaulted. Their voices need to be part of this as well.

MACMILLAN: Jason Falinski, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have said that anyone who thinks that these sorts of issues are confined to Parliament House is kidding themselves, that many workplaces across the country need to change. Do you agree with that? Or do you think that there are specific problems that need to be dealt with in this place?

FALINSKI: Well, there’s a great line about Tolstoy that all families are unhappy in their own ways. And undoubtedly, there have been incidences across workplaces throughout Australia. This is not a challenge or a problem confined to Parliament House. But no doubt each of those workplaces have specific, the specifics are different, and the challenges they face and the measures they need to take will be different. Having said that, I think that there’s a lot that we can learn from the private sector in that respect. I know that, you know, I came to this Parliament having managed people in a large corporate, having run my own business, you get a lot of training in a large corporate, you have a lot of scaffolding and structural support from an HR department. As someone who ran his own business, you feel very keenly that you have a personal responsibility for the health and welfare of the people that you employ. Not everyone comes to this place with that experience. And I think that there are measures that we can take here to create that structural support, to make sure that that training is available. And in some cases, and I don’t want to pre-empt the review, maybe that training should be mandatory as well. So they’re the sorts of things that I think that we can undertake, that we can learn from the private sector, and adapt to Parliament pretty quickly.

MACMILLAN: Let’s move on to the vaccination rollout. It officially got underway today, but there was a small group of people vaccinated yesterday, including the Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Jason Falinski, why wasn’t the Labor Leader Anthony Albanese included as part of that group? And was that a missed opportunity to send a bipartisan message of support?

FALINSKI: I personally think any opportunity to stick a needle in Anthony’s arm is definitely a missed opportunity. But look, I think the important thing is it’s not about us. It’s not about who here got jabbed yesterday, the important thing is that it’s about the Australian people. And that we get the message out to people that if we are to move forward from this awful virus, and this pandemic that has killed and harmed so many people, then as many people as possible need to step forward to get the vaccine done and should do so voluntarily. We have a staged rollout. If you’ve missed Greg Hunt then you haven’t been watching television, all you ever see in particular, and that that will happen. And by the end of October, hopefully we will have herd immunity in Australia.

MACMILLAN: There are concerns about a number of people who are hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Amanda Rishworth, what did you make of Tennis Australia’s president being booed at the Australian Open last night when she mentioned COVID vaccinations? What should we read into that?

RISHWORTH: Well I think there needs to be a strong message out there, and a public message that this is really important to get the vaccine. I was, I must admit, disappointed that the Prime Minister didn’t take the opportunity for a bipartisan show of support. Because I think it is really important we do send that strong message that this isn’t political, this is about the country. And so I think we though need to make sure that we’re constantly working with our communities, to give them that confidence, to make sure that they know that this is a really important thing. That it is safe, that it is effective. And it’s something that as soon as my opportunity comes up, I will be absolutely getting in that line to get that vaccination. But we need to make sure that the government does stay on track with this, there are still concerns about supply and delivery. We need this rolled out in the most effective way possible, most efficient way. And we need to be reassuring the public that this is a really important measure.

MACMILLAN: Had Labor been expecting to be part of that first group of people who would be vaccinated?

RISHWORTH: Look, I don’t know if I’m not privy to those discussions. But I do think it would have been a really good show of bipartisanship, to have everyone in the room –  not everyone but the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader there having that vaccination. I think it is a real missed opportunity, and something that I don’t know the background to, but I think it was incredibly disappointing. Because I think it is about showing that confidence, showing that our public leaders aren’t avoiding it. And so I think that would have been good, it’s not. I’ll certainly be taking a picture and putting it up on Instagram when I get that shot, just to say that I absolutely back getting a vaccination.

MACMILLAN: Jason Falinski, were you concerned by those boos that we heard at the Australian Open last night? There was also the anti vaxxer protests over the weekend. How concerned are you about the public attitudes towards this program?

FALINSKI: I’m not really concerned about it. What we do know from the World Health Organisation around pandemics that are not COVID-19, is that as long as you are bringing people along with you, you don’t have a problem. If you don’t try to, the best way to actually get people offside is to try and silence them. So you know, if people want to boo, if they want to protest, that’s great. It’s the 15 per cent of people who are sort of in the middle. I mean, the statistics are pretty clear, 80 per cent of people want this, 15 per cent or a bit are going to hang back, and 5 per cent are always the naysayers. It’s that 15 per cent that we need to demonstrate we’re giving you information, it’s your choice, no one’s going to force you to do anything, but it is in your best interest, the best interest of your family, and the best interest of our nation that you actually do this.

MACMILLAN: Let’s go finally to the government’s proposed media bargaining code. It prompted Facebook late last week to ban Australian news content. Jason Falinski, the Health Minister says his Department won’t be paying Facebook for advertising while that ban remains in place. Is that a risky move? Considering we need to get as much information out as possible at the moment?

FALINSKI: Absolutely not. I mean, Facebook’s behaviour is reprehensible. What is at stake here is that intellectual property created by the ABC, created by journalists, by publishers, right across this country. You own that and you deserve to be paid for that. What Facebook is saying is that your work is worthless, and they’re not going to pay you for it. And if the Australian Government tries to assert your rights to your intellectual property, they will behave in this manner. Well two can play at that game. And it’s not even that, it’s they have shown themselves not to be a credible company in the Australian marketplace. And we’re happy not to advertise on their platform.

MACMILLAN: Amanda Rishworth, the bargaining code has passed the House of Representatives with Labor’s support, it’s due to come to the Senate shortly. Will Labor be supporting it there?

RISHWORTH: Certainly in principle we support the idea of a workable code. We haven’t seen amendments yet, of course we don’t know what amendments the Government’s proposing, we’ll obviously consider those. But you know, in principle, we’ve absolutely said that we will support a workable code that actually delivers. Obviously, Facebook’s response has been reprehensible. And I understand the government’s response to this. But we also need to make sure when the vaccine comes out, that there is accurate information out there. So that’s going to be a challenge, there are still a lot of people using Facebook. So that is a challenge. And like I said, I understand the government’s response to this. But look, we’ll work through any amendments of the legislation. We haven’t seen them, so we’ll wait eagerly for those.

MACMILLAN: Do you think that the Government should be banning advertising on Facebook?

RISHWORTH: Look, like I said, I can understand it. I’m not privy to the discussions and the negotiations at the moment. But people are still consuming information from Facebook and those decisions should not be taken lightly, would be my comments.

FALINSKI: Can I just add to that? I mean, this company is so irresponsible, that at the same time that we are trying to roll out a vaccine and get proper information into people’s hands, they have done nothing to stop the spreading of the anti vaxxer propaganda on their website and their platform. This is just not a credible company when it comes to these matters.

MACMILLAN: Do you think that they should have done more to clamp down on Craig Kelly’s Facebook?

FALINSKI: I think that their behaviour around fake news over many years has been inadequate, and it’s time to call them to account.

MACMILLAN: All right, Jason Falinski and Amanda Rishworth, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you both for joining me.


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