By Tanya Plibersek

01 September 2021



SUBJECTS: [email protected]; Labor’s policies; Brittany Higgins; Border closures; Government’s failure to manage Covid-19.

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Now, the federal opposition has pledged to implement in full all 55 recommendations of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's report aimed at keeping all Australians safe from sexual harassment at work if it wins the next federal election. We're joined now by the Shadow Minister for Women and Education, Tanya Plibersek from Sydney. Tanya Plibersek, good morning to you.

ROWLAND: Why is it so important in Labor's view that all of those 55 recommendations of that report are introduced in full. 
PLIBERSEK: Well, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner spent years talking to Australian workers about their experiences of sexual harassment. What she found is about 40 per cent of women and about 25 per cent of men are sexually harassed at work. It can be devastating for individuals. It's also very costly for companies because of staff turnover. She made 55 recommendations in her [email protected] report. The Government said that they support and accept all of them. They've introduced a Bill into the Parliament that doesn't do that. It's half-hearted. It's half-assed. So we want to strengthen the Bill that's before the Parliament at the moment. But we've also said on a number of other recommendations that don't require legislation, the government should do this and if the government doesn't, Labor will. So for example, we've said that there should be working women's centres in every state and territory. We've only got three left - the others have closed because of federal government funding cuts. Those working women's centres that can give free confidential advice should be re-established in every state and territory. We've also said that the Human Rights Commission should be funded to be the first port of call, a one-stop shop where people can go for advice if they are experiencing sexual harassment, about what measures are open to them and also that employers can use to get advice to make sure that they're providing a safe workplace for all their staff.

ROWLAND: Now, the role of women in society, the treatment of women was catapulted front-and-centre earlier this year, Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape being a key flashpoint. How much of a role would you like to see - or focus would you like to see the treatment of women taking whenever the next election is?

PLIBERSEK: Look Australian women don't want special treatment. They just want a fair go. And while we still have a gender pay gap, while we still have so many experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace or domestic violence at home or sexual assault. We know that we haven't done enough as governments right around Australia, we can do more. That's not about any sort of special treatment. It's about just having all of the rights that any Australian citizen should expect.

So we're talking about sexual harassment today, but Labor is also committed to cheaper, childcare for 97 per cent of Australian families, to 10 days paid domestic violence leave, to making sure that women - particularly in low-paid industries - are able to get fairly paid for the work they do and also receive a decent amount of superannuation so they don't retire in poverty. We know that older single women are the fastest growing group of people entering into homelessness. So we've also said we'd set aside some of the new social housing that we're building for women and children escaping domestic violence. This is not about doing anything for women that we wouldn't expect for any Australian citizen. But the truth is we have structural inequalities that we need to fix as a nation. 
ROWLAND: Just on Brittany Higgins, we learned in the last few days that that departmental investigation into who knew what and when about her alleged rape a Parliament House back in 2019 has been paused because it may conflict with criminal proceedings. Do you worry as a result we may never find out who knew what and when in the Prime Minister's office about Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape?

PLIBERSEK: It's just beggars belief that this report is not done. It should be done and dusted. It should have been finished months ago. I cannot believe that this has been put off once again. This is a simple question: Who knew what when about the reported assault of Brittany Higgins just metres away from the Prime Minister's office. I can't believe it's not done yet and it really makes me question why it's taken so long. 
ROWLAND: Let's go to the Covid situation. We have now the federal government this morning through Attorney General Michaelia Cash suggesting there may be a High Court challenge to states like WA who keep borders up once the 80 per cent target is reached. Is that we really want to go Tanya Plibersek? Should states like WA, and to a lesser extent Queensland, follow the plan and open their borders when 80 per cent is reached?
PLIBERSEK: Well court challenges are ridiculous. And you saw just how popular Clive Palmer's last effort supported by Scott Morrison, it's important to say, when Clive Palmer wanted to take the Western Australian government to court. I think he united every Western Australian against him. Look, we support the national plan to reopen Australia. People are sick of the lockdowns. They're sick of seeing businesses that they've spent 20 or 30 years growing being destroyed by the what's happening with the economy. They're tired of the kids being home from school. They're worried about their kids’ education. They're worried about their kids’ social and emotional well-being. Everybody wants things to get back to normal as quickly as possible, and the reason this is dragging on so long is because our Prime Minister didn't order enough vaccine and he didn't establish purpose-built quarantine facilities when he was advised to do so, and because Australia can't make the Pfizer style mRNA vaccines here - despite that the government saying months ago that we would embark on the process that would allow us to make mRNA vaccines here in Australia. This is a failure that should be laid at Scott Morrison's door. We need to open up. We need to do that sensibly, follow the road map to reopening, but I can tell you, if I were a Premier in a state with zero transmission, I'd be looking at New South Wales now and I'd be worried. I'd be worried. 
ROWLAND: Tanya Plibersek, in Sydney. Thanks for your time this morning.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks, Michael.