By Tanya Plibersek

25 March 2021




SUBJECTS: Appalling behaviour in Parliament House; Quotas. 

ALAN JONES, HOST: Well, let's got to the female panel, Tanya Plibersek, we all know, and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. It has been a volcanic week in Canberra and it may not be over. I just want to briefly returned to the discussion we had last week re: Nicolle Flint. I argued that it was not credible that women like Tanya, Penny Wong, and Kristina Keneally didn't know the awful job being done on Nicolle Flint in the seat of Boothby. Tanya took exception to my comments, which I never object to, there is nothing wrong with a bit of spirit and standing your ground. Subsequently in speaking with Nicolle, she expressed her concern not for Tanya Plibersek, but for Penny Wong the South Australian Senator who Nicolle believes turned a blind eye to the horrendous sexist and misogynist abuse scrawled all over Nicolle's campaign office, all of which was reported on radio, TV, and in print. We haven't left it there. I have spoken to both women off air, Tanya and Nicolle. And I think the update is that they're going to work together to improve things. There are other issues I want to raise here, but let's just get an update on that on the principle that no one should be personally vilified simply for seeking to represent his or her community, and no one should be violated whether inside or outside the parliament. 

I want you to just put politics aside for a moment. Tanya Plibersek in the Parliament today. I'm a hard marker. I thought she was outstanding. This is powerful stuff. You'll notice it's unscripted. No looking down at the notes. But it'll irritate her political opponents. This is a woman exhibiting, in my view, real leadership. Have a listen to Tanya Plibersek in Parliament today:

[AUDIO, TANYA PLIBERSEK]: This moment in our history could be the time when we change, fundamentally, to be a country where women feel safe. On our streets, in our homes, in our workplaces. We could do that now as a nation. The question is are we up to it?
Are we up to it as a Parliament to show the leadership that is necessary to win that change? Will this lead to permanent change, or will it be a temporary inconvenience to be managed away like every other political problem that this Government faces? I thought when I saw the Prime Minister's press conference earlier this week - he started so well. He actually sounded like he'd finally got it. Ten minutes into the press conference, because he gets a question from a journalist, he just loses it again, and makes us think, was it all an act? Were the tears all an act? The tragedy for Australian women today is if we started crying about the women we know who have been raped and murdered and sexually assaulted and sexually harassed – if we started crying for the women that we know that this had happened to, we would never stop. We would never stop. Because I remember the names of a Anita Cobby and Janine Balding, the women who were abducted and raped and tortured and murdered, when I was growing up. I remember their names. They have always stayed with me. And I remember Eurydice Dixon and I remember Hannah Clarke. I remember all of these women, we all do. It takes more than tears.

JONES: Let's go to the two ladies, Tanya Plibersek and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. Tanya Plibersek, what prompted that today?
TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Well Alan, we've had just a shocking few weeks in the Parliament, where there's been revelation after revelation of appalling behaviour. And I think like a lot of Australians, I've just had a gutful of it. I've just had a gutful.
JONES: Concetta, this can be a double-edged sword can't it, we want civility and women to be treated properly, but we also don't want all men to be viewed as potential rapists do we?
SENATOR CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, I think when the feminist movement or any movement targets everybody then it dilutes the message. Look, can I just say Alan we live in a society where social media is at times so abhorrent, Hollywood is plastered all over us you know, every second word is an F-bomb. It's just a deterioration of society. And so therefore standards have completely slipped. But I have to say that this week what happened in Parliament was absolutely appalling. I was certainly flummoxed by what happened. And in the end, it was a disrespect not just of the women that work in this place, not just- of everyone. This should be the model workplace, but it's not the model workplace. And I'm sure that after, I'm sure Tanya would agree with me, after all the investigations and after all the talking there has to be some change and I think that that change is going to affect many different parts of this building.

JONES: I mean surely, surely Tanya, the first basic changes, people in most workplaces – people are drug tested, they're tested, alcohol tested, these tests have to be passed and so on. Are we mixing this whole thing up? Because a lot of the focus in the last two days has been on these gay men who pleasured themselves in an office, now that's not got nothing to do with women, but that seems to be caught up, and so I think we're talking, aren't we here, about the culture of the Parliament? We don't want any woman believing though just because she goes to Sydney University she's running the risk of being raped, or don't become a Federal Member of Parliament because you might be raped. How do we dismantle this, Tanya Plibersek?
PLIBERSEK: Well Alan, one of the things that has disturbed me most about the last few weeks is the young women who work here as staffers, who work here as journalists, who are saying to me that their parents are ringing saying are you sure you're safe there? 


PLIBERSEK: Do you really think you ought to be working there? And our democracy needs these young women.
JONES: There are young blokes saying that too, I got to tell you, Tanya. 
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, of course. And we have to we have to reassure all Australians, that most of us are here working really hard, focusing on our jobs. It's about making sure that taxpayers understand most of us are here working hard to give them value for money. To do what we're paid to do. But Alan, you asked how do we change this? You know, I was brought up by loving parents. My father was a strong and gentle man. And I'm married to a strong and gentle man. And we have two beautiful sons, as well as our daughter. And I think as parents we are trying to raise them together to be gentle, kind, decent men, who look after the people around them. We all have to be doing that.
JONES: Sure. But one thing we haven't, we half talked about this a week ago, and I say this to both of you: we're able to now do something about Facebook and all those outfits in relation to paying for news and so on and that was all a great triumph and whatever. But what about the vulgarity, the violent language and the dishonest portrayal of people – both you women have copped this the most, you couldn't even repeat the stuff that's been said about you on social media, you couldn't repeat it. And you can't even believe that anyone could think it. So Concetta, this is part of the problem as well, isn't it? What do we do about cleaning that act up?

FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, there's no doubt that particularly trolling and what's happened on the internet and what happens on Twitter, yes I have been the subject of absolutely appalling comments, but whilst ever there's anonymity in relation to what you can write on Twitter or say on Facebook accounts, etc. I think unless that veil of anonymity is removed then I think that we are going to continue to see that. So I would really like to see- there has to be some proof of identity. If you're going to have an account, then I think there has to be some proof of identity.


FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: And we've seen, absolutely, it's pretty simple. It's pretty simple. 

JONES: Well Tanya I mentioned last week, I mentioned last week, I want to mention this in a different context tonight, but Sir Thomas More, who's the 16th century social philosopher who argued that silence betokens consent. We've heard all this stuff this week, and not all about rape. The latest is, as I said about a group of gay men pleasuring themselves in an MP's office. But at the end of the day did no one know anything about any of this? Why was the whole of the Parliament silent until these last couple of weeks? What's been going on?

PLIBERSEK: Alan, I mean, it is a workplace of 5,000 people. I know that doesn't excuse this. But it is, frankly, it's a mystery to me where people find the time. I have been really shocked by these reports. I'd certainly hadn't heard anything about it, perhaps other people had. Most of us are just, you know, coming to work, getting on with our jobs every day. It is disturbing. But I don't think it's a culture of secrecy in relation to this. 

JONES: Well, what's the first step of reform? What's the first step, both of you, you first Tanya and then Concetta. What is the first step to reform?

PLIBERSEK: Alan, I'd really like to see a Parliament that better reflects our whole community. I mean, you were making light of it before, saying you need quotas for old people and redheads and so on. That's not what I mean. But I do think that a Parliament that better reflects our community, that does have better gender balance, a range of ages, a range of professional backgrounds, religious and ethnic backgrounds, that is as diverse as our Australian community-

JONES: Where does merit fit it?

PLIBERSEK: -would make this- Well of course merit, Alan. I mean-

JONES: Who gave you a leg-up? What gender quota existed for you to get a guernsey?

PLIBERSEK: Alan, if you believe in merit, you would believe that half the merit in Australia sits with the female half of the population. If you believe in merit, you think it's pretty evenly distributed.

JONES: But many mightn't want to be there.

PLIBERSEK: Of course, that's true.

JONES: Concetta, come to you. What's the first step? What's the first step? 

FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, you cannot conflate the bad behaviour of politicians as an argument for quotas. I have never believed in quotas and I don't believe in quotas now. Preselection must be on the basis of merit and bad politicians need to be responsible for their own actions. We cannot conflate these two arguments. Now as far as the Liberal Party is concerned and bearing in mind that a third of the seats are in New South Wales, people like myself started back in 2000 to push for plebiscites in New South Wales and we finally achieved that. And I know that when you broaden the base of any political party and you broaden the grassroots support in that party, then out of that will emerge good candidates including good women-

JONES: Yes definitely.

FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: -who will feel that they will go through a proper preselection process based on merit where they know that it will be fair and equitable and that the factional bosses are not going to dictate the outcome, as has been the case in New South Wales for a long time.

JONES: I agree. I agree. Tanya, one thing that hasn't been raised here apart from everything else: is there something wrong with a security system that allows anyone into the Parliament who's drunk? Now the security officer on duty says well, she didn't break any rules. So it is okay to be drunk and it's okay to let drunk people into the office of the Defence Minister. There's got to be something wrong with the security system Tanya. 

PLIBERSEK: Alan, Members of Parliament and staff do have to have access after hours. There's been times when I've had to come in at 11 o'clock at night-

JONES: Not drunk?

PLIBERSEK: No, never drunk. But Alan, imagine if a security guard stopped a Member of Parliament entering the building because they were coming in after a few drinks, a night out. I think there'd be plenty of Connie's colleagues, and perhaps some of mine, who'd be outraged by the idea. I don't think the problem is the drinking. I think the problem is the rape. And we need to keep focusing on the allegation of what's occurred here. I don't condone drinking it work. I don't do it. I haven't had a drink since January actually – I'm quite enjoying not drinking. But it's not the drinking that's the problem here. It's the sexual assault.

JONES: But these things often occur when people through drink are not in charge of their own behaviour. Concetta, just a quick one on this security thing. I'm in disbelief that drunk people are allowed into the Parliament by the security. Look way back when I was there, I mean you'd just be turfed out, you wouldn’t be allowed up the steps. Concetta?

FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, the security guard was following the rules. What she did, she followed her rules. Now if those rules change and I believe that after all these investigations and given what's happened, most especially in relation to the Higgins matter and other matters, I suspect that there will be a serious look at security issues, but as Tanya said, whilst ever this building has 24/7 access, so long as you are an entitled pass holder, you can access this building.

JONES: I know.

FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Now if those rules change-

JONES: It's absurd. 

FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: -then of course that will lead to a change in culture and behaviour. 

JONES: Alright ladies, we could talk about this all night. But I think what everyone out there is asking for is something to be done. I think there should be breath testing of people, for anyone going in and out of the Parliament, and I just think that ought to be some rules in relation to security, I think there are too many people working there. There are too many people who are young and with no qualifications at all, and they're just factional hacks and they are to idle hands. We know what happens in relation to that, but look, thank you both for your contribution on what is a very, very difficult subject. Have a good weekend. We'll talk next week. Tanya Plibersek and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. 


PLIBERSEK: Thanks Alan.