By Tanya Plibersek

15 March 2021



SUBJECTS: March4Justice; Labor. 

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Just a few words about the women's march today. I've never experienced anything like I've seen in the last few weeks in the lead up to this march. Wherever I go, I'm stopped by women, by girls - by men as well - saying they've just had enough. Enough of the allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment, here in Parliament but right across Australia as well. I think the people marching today are marching because they're sad and they're frustrated. They're so sad to hear story after story about sexual assault and sexual harassment. And they're so frustrated because we are - after decades of working on this issue - still facing the same problems again and again. We face a system that is stacked against victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment. We know that. I'm very concerned too, that despite all of the efforts that have been made by so many people over so many years, change is too slow. It's not happening fast enough. We need to see genuine change so that Australian women and girls are safe at home, at work, in the community, walking down the street. Wherever they are. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Is it fair enough that the Prime Minister only offered to receive a delegation of the March4Justice organisers into his office?                                                                                                                                                                                  
PLIBERSEK: I think this goes beyond just the march that will be outside Parliament today. This goes deeply into our communities right across Australia. We know that one in five women over the age of 15 has experienced sexual assault. We know that over the last five years, 40 per cent of women have experienced sexual harassment at work. Acknowledging this march is really important. And I think the Government called it wrong in trying to pretend this wasn't happening. But these issues go well beyond any march on any one day. And the fact we've got a Government that continues to try and bury its head in the sand rather than face up to these issues, to lead real legislative reform, that's the heart of the problem. The [email protected] report written by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, has been sitting on the Attorney-General's desk for a year. None of the 55 recommendations have been seriously progressed. The Government is trying to get by without addressing these issues in any sort of fundamental way. That's the heart of the problem. 

JOURNALIST: What message does it send to victims that only one Liberal MP has confirmed that she'll attend today's march? 

PLIBERSEK: I think victims of sexual assault and victims of sexual harassment have felt for the longest time that the system is stacked against them. Anybody who has seen up close the toll it takes to report sexual harassment in the workplace, or the toll that it takes to go to police after a sexual assault, would know that. They would know that the system is difficult, that legislative reform is required, that better supports for victims and survivors are absolutely required. And that fundamentally, we need to change our society  - starting when children are very young with age-appropriate respectful relationships education. I think the great frustration and anger that so many Australian women are feeling right now is because we've been saying this, we have been saying this for decades – and it would be good if we had a Government that was listening. 

JOURNALIST: Is it time for you to lead the Labor Party and demonstrate real change from the top?      

PLIBERSEK: I have been doing my share to change the culture of the Labor Party for very many years. But I don't feel like I've got it right yet either. The fact that we have Labor Party staff members coming out in recent days saying that they haven't felt appropriately supported in their workplace, that makes me feel terribly sad and sorry, that despite the decades of work that women like me have been doing in the Labor Party, we haven't got it right yet for our own people. So we all need to do better in this respect.

JOURNALIST: You refer to that Facebook group, and it’s been reported that yourself and other female Labor MPs made sort of an official reply to that group. Could I ask for your response to some of those reports? Were you concerned when you heard, when you saw that post in that Facebook group?

PLIBERSEK: Yes, of course I'm concerned. It makes me terribly sad and sorry that we haven't got it right for this generation of staff yet. And it's a real reminder that we need to keep working ourselves, in our party, to provide a safe workplace and supportive workplace for all of our staff. But that has to happen right across the Parliament. And more particularly it has to happen right across our society. Everybody should be safe at work. No ifs, no buts, no questions, no outs - everybody should be safe at work, every woman should be safe in her home, every child should be safe in their home. Every person should be safe to walk down the street. We still have a long way to go in this country, and that's why I'm so pleased that so many people are marching today, to send a very strong message that they won't accept the status quo any longer.

JOURNALIST: I’ve heard from some in Labor that it isn't as much of a problem for the Labor Party as it is for the Coalition. Are some of your colleagues burying their heads in the sand about the extent of this issue?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think there is a difference. When you get to almost half women, there are more people to see the sexism, more people to call it out. We've been working on our culture change for a long time. Most recently, a couple of years ago, when I realised that the protections for our staff weren't strong enough, Labor wrote to the Government and asked for stronger protections in the Members of Parliament staff arrangements. We've also, of course, been working on our own code of conduct, to make sure that it's stronger, and gives greater protection. We’ve been, because of our affirmative action policies, changing our culture for decades. What recent revelations remind us though, is that it’s not job done – it's not we can put our feet up and relax now. There is still work that needs to be done.

JOURNALIST: What does Labor need to do to fix this? You talk about those internal processes, you talk about this inquiry, you talk about updating the code of conduct - there have been, I have spoken to staff who say they're not sure about how to report things. They don't know where to go or how to get things done. How do you address that?

PLIBERSEK: We need to make sure that anybody who has a complaint about the way they've been treated at work knows exactly the processes and supports available to them. Knows in the first instance what sort of support is available. And then secondly, what formal processes are available to them. And I think most importantly of all, anybody who has a complaint to make knows that we will back them. We will support them. There is nothing wrong about coming forward if you've got a complaint about something that's happened to you in the workplace. We urge it. We urge you to come forward, and we say we will support you. Thanks everyone.