Sky News – March 4 Justice, culture in Parliament, WA election

Monday, 15 March 2021

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Live now on the panel, Labor MP Amanda Rishworth and from the Liberal Party, Julian Simmonds. Thanks both for your time, let’s start on the March 4 Justice. So you’re going?

JULIAN SIMMONDS, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR RYAN: I think that when these allegations first came out, Tom, it’s important to note is that we all reflected, and we felt a deep responsibility to our staff and the women in our lives to make sure if change is needed in this place and culture, that that change happens. So how do we achieve that? Well, my experience in politics is the best way to do that is by a considered dialogue about talking about what change needs to occur and how to achieve that. That’s what was offered by the PM and I’m sorry that wasn’t taken up by the organisers to meet in depth. I don’t – my experience is that protests aren’t the way to really get into an issue and to get change. So I won’t be attending. But I can assure you that myself, my colleagues, the government are apprised of the need for cultural change in this place.

CONNELL: Might be a few examples in history that disagree with you. Suffragettes – pretty successful protest movement – Civil Rights in the US.

SIMMONDS: Look, I absolutely think that the people who are marching are to be respected and, and encouraged to do so because they highlight that there is a cultural and –

CONNELL: They say there’s a lack of equality in politics and beyond, do you agree with that?

SIMMONDS: Well, yeah, I think we need to make sure that we have a safe workplace for all of our staff, including females, all the women in our lives. Any workplace should be safe. Now, this place is no different to that. But it does throw up some, as Amanda knows, some unique working styles and all the rest of it and environment. So we need to make sure that if there is cultural change here, which I think there is, that that occurs.

CONNELL: Amanda, are you going and if so why?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: I am going because I do think that what has happened in the public discourse in the last few weeks has really made many women around this country angry and frustrated. Angry because in this day and age, when we’ve been talking about workplace cultures for so long, there is still sexual harassment going around in workplaces across this country. There is still unacceptable levels of gendered violence. There is parts of our legal system that make it very difficult for complainants to be able to take the issues forward. And here in Parliament House, they want to see the best model workplace culture. So it’s much broader than this. There are many women out there frustrated, angry. And I understand that and what I want to do is show my support for their call for change and be part of that.

CONNELL: So what are the concrete changes this march is calling for that Labor agrees with, that the Federal Government has responsibility for?

RISHWORTH: So sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. There is a report that has come out that the Government–

CONNELL: The Jenkins report –

RISHWORTH: Yes, so the Government has been sitting on that–

CONNELL: So act on that?

RISHWORTH: Yes, take it seriously and start acting on that. In addition, of course, we are seeing not enough money being put into gendered violence. We still have domestic violence levels in this country that are unacceptable. There is a National Plan for Violence Against Women and Children that has been underfunded, we need to see more funding for that. So there are some concrete things here that we need to see action on and I would like to show my support.

CONNELL: Jenkins report was released a year ago. No action since?

SIMMONDS: No I think we are taking action to this recommendation. I know that the Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Amanda Stoker, is working on those recommendations. I sit on the Committee for Legal and Social Affairs where we’re doing an investigation into domestic and sexual and family violence and we’ll be recommending further funding. So I think I agree with Amanda, we should be a model workplace, that’s what Australians expect.

CONNELL: Okay, well, what about the women sexually harassed in the workplace in the past year and this report sitting there doing nothing?

SIMMONDS: Well, that we are working through the report and the recommendations and-

CONNELL: It hasn’t been acted upon.

SIMMONDS: We’ll put in the funding that is absolutely required, because this is something that we are all determined to achieve, is that to make sure that women are respected in all workplaces across our nation. And I think the fact that the two parties have come together to make sure that this is a model workplace in Parliament House demonstrates the level of commitment.

CONNELL: A year without action specifically on this doesn’t seem to make it a priority of the Government’s.

SIMMONDS: Well, I disagree. I think it is a priority. I think making sure that women feel safe in the workplace is a priority for the government. And I know the Minister for Women has done a number of different initiatives around funding for domestic violence, around funding for workplace reforms. So one report does not make up the totality of the Government’s agenda.

CONNELL: This was a report commissioned to look into this very issue we’re talking about and no actions happen for a year. What, you’re saying that the report isn’t-

SIMMONDS: I think a lot of action has occurred and continues to occur because –

CONNELL: Specific recommendations around responsibility for business. None of this stuff has been acted upon.

SIMMONDS: Yeah but Tom, can I simply go back to the point I made before, which is one report does not make up the totality of the Government’s agenda on this issue. And I know that it’s something that the Minister for Women is –

CONNELL: And how many of the 55 recommendations have been acted upon?

SIMMONDS: I’d have to go away and check with Amanda Stoker, who I know as Assistant Minister for the Attorney-General is working through the recommendations and actually from the report.

CONNELL: Amanda, what about the Labor issues? Allegations were put in a Facebook group, some of them very serious, they include a married staffer, apparently plying a junior colleague with alcohol. That person, that woman could not have consented, had sex with her and put her in a cab, apparently.

RISHWORTH: Those comments on that Facebook group are very concerning. I’ve been very clear through this whole process that these types of inappropriate behaviour are not confined to one side of politics. That we do need reform and we do need it now. And so they are very, very concerning. And I would encourage any Labor, Liberal, Greens, Crossbench staff members to participate in the Jenkins review. If they would feel more comfortable doing it through the Labor Party, we have had new processes endorsed by the National Executive. I would certainly be happy to provide any informal support as well, for any women that would like to talk about that. But I have never said that this is one side of politics, we need a cultural change.

CONNELL: Did you hear about the staff member sacked last year for sexual harassment from the Labor office?

RISHWORTH: I don’t know about that. I didn’t hear anything beforehand or at the time. I’m not aware of even who you’re talking about to be quite frank.

CONNELL: Right. Okay. No knowledge of that at all.

RISHWORTH: I don’t know who you’re talking about.

CONNELL: And what about the breaking news we had today? Christian Porter launching a defamation action. That action aside, is that what we’re going to hear, or would it be acceptable to hear from now on when either the Attorney-General or the Prime Minister asked about this,  “Well, there’s legal action pending, we can’t comment.”

SIMMONDS: Oh, no, I think you’ll just continue to hear what we’ve already said, which is that everyone is entitled to the same rights under the law, that the investigations should be undertaken by the police or we’d welcome a coronial inquest. But whether you’re a Cabinet Minister, or anybody else, you have the same legal rights.

CONNELL: Yeah, of course you do. But just to be really specific on this, the government won’t hide behind this legal action to say we can’t comment on the matter anymore?

SIMMONDS: I think the same comment that you’ll get is not about the defamation action, but the same comment you’ll get is people are entitled to the same rights under the law. It’s not for the media and it’s not for politicians to decide guilt to investigate allegations – it’s for the police and the court, potentially the coroner, and that is the process that’s being gone through. Whether or not the Attorney-General seeks defamation action.

CONNELL: Right, but that call for an independent inquiry, this legal action doesn’t preclude that in of itself.

SIMMONDS: No, I think when it comes to an independent inquiry, the point I want to make is that independent inquiries –

CONNELL: It won’t be because of the defamation, and that that would be used as an excuse, if you like?

SIMMONDS: Well, no, I think the defamation is entirely separate.

CONNELL: Okay, I just want to ask you about the WA election – lessons out of it. Glenn Sterle thinks Anthony Albanese has got to be more pro-mining, and that might help, particularly in the wild west, as we’re discovering it is?

RISHWORTH: Well, look, I would like to first say congratulations to Mark McGowan. He ran a very strong campaign. And I think what it also showed is that he stood up to Canberra when the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General were siding with Clive Palmer, to take action against the Western Australian Premier for doing the right thing by Western Australians. Western Australians have backed their Premier over Canberra. I think a strong message coming out of the election wa- that Mark McGowan worked hard to keep Western Australians safe against a Federal Government that was going to take court action.

CONNELL: Again, looking forward on that, though, that WA government looks to put borders up again, which it said is well within its arsenal. Should the Federal Government be prepared, even if it’s unpopular, to say that’s not a good thing to do? Once the vaccinations rolled out in particular.

SIMMONDS: I think you’ll always see the PM and the Government say what they think is in the best interest of all Australians. It’s not about politics. In terms of the COVID recovery, we are about to see millions of doses roll off the production line at our locally made facility and that I think the vaccine, getting people vaccinated, get the jab, it’s the key to making sure that we don’t have these internal borders.

CONNELL: Julian, Amanda, thanks for your time today.

SIMMONDS: Thanks very much.

ENDS

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