By Tanya Plibersek

09 February 2022




SUBJECTS: Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins; Religious Discrimination Bill.

And every week we are joined by the federal Shadow Minister of Education, and Federal Shadow Minister for Women, Tanya Plibersek. How are you, Tanya?


EMERSON: I'm very well. Thank you. Now, I know you weren't at the National Press Club today because you are at home isolating at the moment, so I can understand why you weren't there. But Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins, they addressed the club today. What did you make of their speeches?

PLIBERSEK: I thought they were terrific speeches. And you're right, I'm in isolation because we've got a couple of kids down with COVID, like a lot of families at the moment, but I was able to watch online. I thought they were brilliant speeches, and I'm so impressed by this generation of young women leaders who have just had a gutful of year after year being faced with these incredible statistics about the number of kids who experience child sexual assault, women who experience domestic violence, one domestic murder a week - it's no wonder that people are saying enough is enough. They've had a gutful.

EMERSON: In her speech today Grace Tame claimed that she'd been threatened to make sure she wouldn't say anything negative about Scott Morrison at, well, this year's Australia Day Australian of the Year Awards ceremony, because it was an election year. What should the Government do about that?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think the Government is claiming that they're investigating this and so on, but that's not really, it's not really the problem is it? The problem is that we've got a government that's more focused on being seen to do something than actually changing these stubborn statistics. Now, we've got a new tem year plan that's out for consultation at moment, ten year plan to reduce violence against women and their children. And we had a letter from whole group of experts today saying that the plan doesn't set hard enough targets. It's not specific enough, it doesn't have time frames. We need a really clear plan for how we're going to turn this thing around and really clear investment to do it.

EMERSON: But alright then, but you say that's not really the issue. But Grace Tame has made the allegation out there today. The Government has said, look that was the first we heard about it we are going to launch an investigation into it. Surely that is the right thing to do, to launch an investigation to find out who could have made this?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, absolutely. And you'll recall that Phil Gaetjens was asked a year ago, the senior public servant was asked a year ago to investigate who knew what, when in the Prime Minister's office about the alleged sexual assault of Brittany Higgins - and we're still waiting to hear who knew what, when. So they may have an investigation, but the likelihood that that investigation will change a single thing is pretty slim. 

EMERSON: Grace Tame was also asked during the Press Club by the journos whether she'd be involved in with any political party during the federal election campaign. She didn't answer that question. Has Labor approached Grace Tame to either campaign with them, or even be a candidate for them?

PLIBERSEK: I don't know about any approach to like that, but I can tell you that she's an amazing young woman and I've written to her, I've sent her cards and messages congratulating her on her amazing work as Australian of the Year. I think she's done a great job and any political party would be lucky to get her. 

EMERSON: So you'd welcome her to join the Labor Party and stand as a candidate?

PLIBERSEK: I certainly would if she was interested. I mean she did make the point that Kim Beazley tried to convince her so though I'm not sure. If Kim Beazley can't convince her, I don't know if I'd have much luck. 

EMERSON: She said he was very persistent, Kim Beazley, but then again - 

PLIBERSEK: Very persuasive. And he is very persuasive.

EMERSON: Some people may unfairly say he wasn't persuasive enough to win an election, but that would just be very cruel to say that about Kim Beazley. Because I know, I met Kim Beazley over many years, and look he's a nice bloke. He didn't win the election, but he's a nice bloke and I'm sure he did the best to try to get Grace Tame to stand for Labor. Let's talk about the Religious Discrimination Bill. Where does Labor stand on this now?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we think it's really important that all Australians have the right to have and practice their religion, and we want to see a religious discrimination bill that protects that freedom of religion. We also want to make sure that the existing protections for people against discrimination based on they're their sexuality, whether they're pregnant or divorced or using IVF, or any of those other, have a disability - that those protections don't have to be given up in order to give protection to people from religious discrimination. We think that all of these rights can coexist. And what the Prime Minister's done is left this very complicated bill to the very last minute. We want to work cooperatively to give that protection to people of religious faith, but we think the bill can be improved and we would really like the Government to work with us to improve the bill. And I've got to say, the Liberals and Nationals had a marathon meeting yesterday, not even everybody in the Liberal and National parties can agree with the content of this bill. Scott Morrison has got a bill that even his own people are worried about, so it's no wonder that Labor wants to propose some changes to improve the legislation.

EMERSON: But I have seen reports also that there's divisions within the Labor Party over the bill? 

PLIBERSEK: No way. We had a really good discussion today. There are people of good intent trying to wrestle with a really complicated problem. We're trying to offer new protections without removing old protections, we're trying to provide new protections for people of faith without removing old protections for people based on their sexuality, or marital status, or pregnancy, or a range of other issues. And so we also want to make sure that we're offering stronger protections to people of faith against vilification based on their faith, and I think that's a good thing to do. I think that would be really widely supported in the Australian community. Of course, we shouldn't be allowed to vilify people of faith based on their faith,  my great hope is that Scott Morrison will agree with the amendments that we're proposing. I would be surprised if some of his backbenchers certainly didn't want to agree with the changes that we want to make to improve this legislation and do both things. We can offer better protection and new protection to people of faith without removing the old protections from other groups in our community. 

EMERSON: Alright Tanya Plibersek, thanks for being on the show. We'll catch you again next.