Afternoon Briefing – Brittany Higgins, Facebook

Thursday, 18 February 2021

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time for the panel, Liberal MP Russell Broadbent and Shadow Minister for Childhood Education and Development, Amanda Rishworth. Russell I want to start with you, has the government failed Brittany Higgins?

RUSSELL BROADBENT, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR MONASH:  I think they have to have regard for Brittany in the first place. They have to consider her wishes all the way through as I think the Minister’s tried to at the time. There were mistakes made as I’ve just heard you talking to David Speers, and this is the ultimate, nearly the ultimate crime against a female, and that has to be taken extremely seriously. I mean, no means no, under any circumstances, and the fact that it happened here in the Parliament House it’s just extremely upsetting.

KARVELAS: Okay and there are reports, I put them to Dan Tehan, that the Prime Minister’s office backgrounding against Brittany on the basis of motivation, in terms of her current partner having a gripe. This is what’s being reported, is that appropriate that a woman who is raising such serious issues is being backgrounded against?

BROADBENT: Backgrounding is never appropriate and I don’t enter into it.

KARVELAS: What do you think on all of this Amanda, how has this been handled? We’re at the end of the political week. This is a very, very serious story and very serious story and situation. Has the government handled it well?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: I’ve been really concerned about how the government’s handled it, and not from my mouth but from Brittany’s mouth. Her statement in response to some of the things this Prime Minister’s said around feeling she was being victim blamed is deeply concerning and will only compound the trauma that has allegedly occurred. So I am concerned about the way the Prime Minister’s handled it. Even today in question time when he presumed to speak on behalf of Brittany, I don’t know what she thinks about the comments he was making, but I am really concerned that the government hasn’t taken the bull by the horns and actually fronted up to this front and centre. And if there is backgrounding going on, that makes everything else the government’s saying just weasel words which is really disappointing.

KARVELAS: Russell, the statements by Brittany are really important. She does say she feels like she’s been victim blamed, there’s been victim blaming that’s happened here and she’s really not even got the CCTV footage she’s been seeking, all of this. Does that concern you?

BROADBENT: It concerns me that such pressure has been placed upon one individual, and I’m particularly concerned for her health and wellbeing through this whole process. At the time she did not want the situation disclosed, that has changed over a period of two years, and we have to have regard for her and deal with everything with her best interests in mind.

KARVELAS: Amanda, looking forward, I spoke to Pru Goward yesterday on this program, and she told me the Canberra culture is 10 years behind. Do you agree with that?

RISHWORTH: I think there’s no doubt that things need to change, that culture needs to change, that we need to have clear processes and procedures in place. It is a very intense working environment, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t change the culture here. So look, I’m not an expert in these things and that’s why I think it is very important that we do have an independent review. But I also think it’s very important that the person that does that independent review is well regarded across the political spectrum. But also has the confidence of the people that work here, the staff that work here. So it is very important that along the way this is settled not just in a bipartisan way, but in a really collective way, so that we can have confidence, everyone can have confidence in the process, and therefore feel that they own the outcomes of this. So I think this is very important, and I do think culture clearly needs to change in this building, we can’t just deflect that. It needs to change.

KARVELAS: Look Russell, I want to change the topic to the other very significant news this morning. What do you make of Facebook’s decision to block users from accessing Australian news content and particularly in the regions, where your seat represents. Are you worried?

BROADBENT: Patricia, I am a professional Facebook user, not a personal Facebook user. In that I use Facebook to get my message out but I don’t receive my information, I start with AM at 6:00am in the morning and work through Radio National and all the other parts of ABC that I can get my hands on, because they’re the best in the regions. And that’s where my information comes from, and it’s accurate and I can rely on it. As far as Facebook goes, I think this has got a long way to run. I think they’re dealing their cards out with threats and coercion, and let’s just see how it runs, because I think the Australian public are not responding very well to Facebook at all. And the will of the people will prevail here.

KARVELAS: I just love that ad for the ABC which we will now cut and run in high rotation for a long time, thank you for that.

BROADBENT: I think you’ll find most of the politicians start with early AM.

KARVELAS: And Radio National drive is your favourite radio show, right.

BROADBENT: That’s where we get the ten to eight fill in from a travelling journalist including my mate Michelle Grattan.

KARVELAS: Amanda, this issue, let’s go to it. Do you think that the government’s done the right thing here and should they stick to their guns on this?

RISHWORTH: Look, firstly I’d say that what Facebook’s done is, I think, absolutely over stepped the mark. I think it is of deep, deep concern, and pretty awful. What the government should do now is look to getting a workable code. The ACCC clearly said it’s important to get a workable code. This uncertainty needs to be resolved, so the government has really got to resolve this as quickly as possible. So I think it is right for the government to call them out. It is terrible behaviour, but now the government must get back and fix this problem quite frankly. How they do that, look I haven’t been, and Labor hasn’t been, in any of those negotiations. It is an issue for the government to solve, but they do need to do it swiftly.

KARVELAS: And finally Russell, I mean is it too extreme to say that this is a threat to democracy, what they’re doing, is that how you view it?

BROADBENT: The government’s not going to take one step backwards on this one. We can’t.

KARVELAS: So just on that question I talked about it with David Speers, arbitration, does that mean you think you should absolutely stick to that part of the policy, that if they don’t get to a deal they have to be forced into arbitration?

BROADBENT: No I think the government has to stand its ground here on behalf of the Australian people in the best interests of this great south land. Absolutely no doubt about it, we must stand strong against organisations this big who say the “we’re bigger than any government in the world”. Well, they’re not.

KARVELAS: Well, let’s see how that gets resolved because they are rather big, but whether they can defeat a government let’s see. Thanks to both of you this afternoon.


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