By Tanya Plibersek

16 March 2021




SUBJECT: March 4 Justice.

FRAN KELLY, HOST: Tanya Plibersek joins me in the Parliament House studios. Tanya Plibersek welcome back to breakfast. 


KELLY: The protests were well attended and certainly will intentioned, but lasting change is what women want and what's needed when it comes to sexist behaviour, violence against women. Do you think we've reached a turning point in this country when it comes to the treatment of women not just in Parliament, but more broadly?

PLIBERSEK: Look it certainly felt that way yesterday. I was really pleased with the number of women who turned out. I was at the Canberra rally, and there were women not just from Canberra but they had come from Sydney and from interstate to raise their voices outside our national Parliament House demanding action. I thought it was so beautiful to see women who have been campaigning for change probably since the 70s, perhaps earlier. A lot of older women there, and they were there with the very youngest little girls carrying placards about their future, and everyone in between. It was a sad and frustrating occasion in so many ways because I think a lot of us feel like we've been saying this for years, if not decades. But it was fantastic to share that experience with so many committed people. 

KELLY: The Prime Minister has promised to respond to the protests as the treasurer Josh Frydenberg just said again this morning. So where should they start, maybe get cracking on last year's Respect at Work report into workplace sexual harassment? Is that the place to start? What do you want the Government to do?

PLIBERSEK: I think the first thing to do would be to stop treating this as a political problem to manage, and to-

KELLY: What do you mean by that? 

PLIBERSEK: I couldn't understand why the Prime Minister wouldn't go out yesterday and meet with women who’d travelled so far to make their voices heard. And then his speech in Parliament yesterday just missed the point entirely. It was a catalogue of things he'd done for the ladies – and that final comment that we should be grateful that we are in a place where you don't get shot for marching, was so off the mark. It reminded me, profoundly, when he was asked about women forced to give birth beside the highway because their maternity hospital had closed and he said, ‘but we've built them a better highway’. He continues to profoundly miss the point. This is a moment when women are raising up their voices for change. We've got Grace Tame talking about how important it is to listen to and be guided by those voices. Saxon Mullins in New South Wales talking about the changes we need to consent laws. Chanel Contos talking about how we need to much better educate our young people about respectful relationships.

KELLY: So what do you want the Government to do? 

PLIBERSEK: Implementing the Respect at Work report would be a really good start. And then working with the states and territories on the other legal reforms that have been identified for years now as needing to be done. 

KELLY: Labor, as we just heard from you here, trying to turn this really into a test of the Prime Minister's leadership. Anthony Albanese accused him of having a tin ear, of Scott Morrison having a tin ear. In response the Prime Minister says Labor is quote "living in glass houses and shouldn't be throwing stones". There were those dozens of anonymous allegations of sexual harassment and abuse from young current and former female Labor staffers that were made on a private Facebook page, but somehow made its way into the media. Both sides of politics have form on this issue and have been too slow to act or still not acting, isn't that the brutal truth?

PLIBERSEK: From the very beginning I've said, and we've said, that every political party needs to do better. Labor does, the Liberals, the Nationals, the Greens. We've all got cases like this that have come up in recent years. We all need to do better. I'm not on that Facebook group because it's a group for staff. But I have had my attention drawn to some of those complaints. And I want to say to people, if you wish to make a complaint we have processes, you can make that complaint, and we will be with you. 

KELLY: Within Labor Party processes? 

PLIBERSEK: Either. You can you can go to the police if it's matter around assault. And we will be with you. We will support you. You can use our Labor Party internal processes, which have recently been strengthened. You can use the Government's new telephone line, where you can get advice about the options that are open to you. Either formal or informal mechanisms that you can use in your workplace. to keep you safer. But Fran, underlying all of this is the realisation that the laws and the systems that we have at the moment let women down. If you're a woman who is sexually assaulted, only one in ten will go to police. Of that one in ten who go to police, three per cent achieve a guilty verdict. We need to change our laws, and we need to change our culture. And that goes to what we're teaching our young people. The average age of first viewing pornography in Australia today is 10 years old. Someone's teaching our kids about sex and sexuality, and they're learning it in a way that teaches them that violence and dominance is just fine. What we need to be teaching them is about healthy respectful relationships and consent.

KELLY: And that's the job of this place here to make laws and Parliaments all across this country to make laws to change that. But meanwhile, if the people in this place are not behaving in a way that values women and respects women that's a problem right now, and just going back to that Facebook page. There were claims against Labor MPs and staff – bullying, unwanted touching, sex without proper consent. If any of this behaviour is proven against any male Labor or staffer, what should happen to them? What's your message to those men? And what should happen? 

PLIBERSEK: My message is there's zero tolerance, and they should face the law, if they've broken the law, or face our internal processes to discipline them. 

KELLY: And what would discipline looking like? Should they walk? 

PLIBERSEK: That's all laid out in our policies. It's a bit hard to talk about hypotheticals Fran, because you're talking about a pretty broad range of behaviour. But no tolerance. Zero tolerance.

KELLY: I found it shocking reading. I mean one report of how a Labor man punches the wall next to his female staffer’s head and then swears at her when she passes on news he doesn't want to hear. Now these are anonymous, don't know who it is, hasn't been tested. But have you witnessed that kind of behaviour with your colleagues? Have you heard about it? Have you called it out?

PLIBERSEK: I call out sexism all the time Fran. I feel like I spend, you know, a fair amount of my time in the Parliament – I'm not just talking about our own people now – but across the Parliament – yes, I've seen sexism in the Parliament. I haven't seen that sort of behaviour. And if I did, for sure I would call it out. If people have stories to tell of sexual harassment or sexual assault, I urge them to come forward, and to tell their stories. To go to the 1800 number that the Government’s set up, to go to the police, to use our strengthened internal processes, and we will be with them. We will be with them when they do that. 

KELLY: The opposition is still demanding an independent inquiry into Christian Porter and the historical rape allegation against him which he strenuously denies. The Attorney General is now taking defamation action against the ABC over a report published last month. This means ultimately the case is likely to end up in a court and before a judge. Is that now the appropriate forum to test what is a criminal allegation? 

PLIBERSEK: What really worries me is that this will be used as an excuse for the Government not to have an independent inquiry, and to stop answering questions about the Christian Porter matter. It's been made very clear – the former Solicitor General said that this could have been referred to the current Solicitor General for advice, that hasn't happened. The New South Wales Bar Association has said that an independent inquiry would be perfectly feasible. And don't forget, Christian Porter himself, as Attorney-General, ordered an independent inquiry to investigate whether Dyson Heydon had engaged in sexual harassment during his time with the Trade Union Royal Commission. Which, incidentally, the Trade Union Royal Commission was a Royal Commission that spent $46 million of taxpayers’ money to work out whether Julia Gillard's ex-boyfriend had built her a bathroom 30 years ago. So this nonsense that there cannot be an independent inquiry because that somehow offends the rule of law, is just nonsense. 

KELLY: And just briefly we're almost out of time – but the Prime Minister was taunting Labor yesterday saying he'd never suggested there should be any kind of inquiry held into a member of Labor's front bench. Now, it was a clear reference to Bill Shorten and the historical rape claim made against him. The circumstances may have been different back in 2014, but you know, it goes to that notion of whether we've handle these things properly.

PLIBERSEK: I guess the difference there was that police investigated for 10 months, and spoke to both to the alleged victim and the accused person, and many other people who attended the event where the thing was supposed to have taken place. 

KELLY: Do you still feel you still feel at ease about the fact that Bill Shorten was allowed to remain as Opposition Leader in the face of those allegations?

PLIBERSEK: They were very clearly investigated by police. And if you've got a thorough and proper police investigation, where the victim is able to tell her story, and receive support to tell her story – I think that hasn't happened in the Christian Porter matter because sadly the victim’s lost her life, and police didn't even receive all of the information that the Prime Minister was given by the victim and her friends. 

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek thank you very much for joining us.