By Tanya Plibersek

01 September 2021




SUBJECTS: Respect @ Work; Gaetjens Inquiry; National reopening plan; vaccine passports.

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Joining us live now in Sydney is Shadow Minister for Women, Tanya Plibersek. Tanya thanks for your time as always this morning. I will get your thoughts on that letter in just a second, but Labor is announcing that it will be investing in Women's Support Services to stop sexual harassment. How big a role do you expect women and women's safety to play in the lead-up to next year's election?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Well Australian women are half the population and they're not asking for special treatment, they're asking to be treated fairly. The Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins wrote a terrific report about sexual harassment in our workplaces. She discovered that about forty per cent of Australian women and a quarter of Australian men had been sexually harassed at work. She made fifty five recommendations to stop that. The Government said it accepted all the 55 recommendations, but they haven't. So, there's a Bill before the Parliament at the moment, we want to strengthen that Bill. And we've also said that the Government should establish Working Women's Centres in every state and territory so that people can get free, confidential advice. And we've said that the Human Rights Commission should be supported to be like a one-stop shop, the first port of call. If someone's being sexually harassed at work or if an employer needs advice about how to provide a safer workplace, they should be able to go to the Human Rights Commission and get that advice.
STEFANOVIC: How important is it that all those 55 recommendations are adopted? 
PLIBERSEK: Of course it's important. This is a report that the Sex Discrimination Commissioner started in 2018. The Government received it and sat on it for more than a year. When Christian Porter was the Attorney General it was just gathering dust on his shelf. The Government has said that they support the 55 recommendations, they've got a chance now with the legislation that's before the Parliament to properly implement the report. Even the Sex Discrimination Commissioner has said that what the Government is doing is a missed opportunity. So let's strengthen the legislation, but let's also provide those supports. If someone's being sexually harassed at work it's miserable for them. It's also very costly for employers because they've got staff turnover, and sometimes even litigation. So the estimated cost is about three and a half billion dollars, but the toll on individuals is really important too. We can really dramatically reduce sexual harassment in our workplaces if we get this right. Let's get it right.
STEFANOVIC: Coincidentally this week, well around about now, the inquiry to Brittney Higgins has been suspended by Phil Gaetjens. What concerns do you have about where that might be heading?
PLIBERSEK: I can't believe that this report isn't finished yet. Like let's remember what this is about. This is about the Prime Minister's hand-picked public servant going in the Prime Minister's office to people "who knew about this alleged assault?" How long does it take to ask half a dozen people what they knew, when about the reported assault of Brittany Higgins. I cannot believe it hasn't been done yet. I think you really have to ask yourself whether there is a real will from the Prime Minister and his office to complete this work. 
STEFANOVIC: You would have just heard, and you'd be aware anyway, thirty of the nation's biggest businesses Tanya, have written an open letter this morning to those states to stay the course when it comes to the reopening plan. Are you with them? 
PLIBERSEK: We all want to see life back to normal as quickly as possible. You know, I live in Sydney. I'm pretty tired of lockdown. I'm worried about the, you're talking about big business, I'm worried about the small businesses in my community, family businesses that have been going for 10 and 20 and 30 years, really struggling at the moment, not sure whether they'll survive this. I'm worried about the kids not being able to go to school, of course everybody wants to get back to normal as quickly as possible. Labor supports the national plan. We need to open up and we need to do it safely. And I guess the only thing I'd say is New South Wales at the moment, we're going through a really tough time. If I was sitting in one of the states where they've got no COVID at the moment. I'd be pretty worried. I'd been looking pretty nervously at New South Wales.
STEFANOVIC: So do you support what the Premiers of Queensland and WA, and other states for that matter, of doing by threatening to keep the borders closed beyond the point where we exceed 80% vaccinations?
PLIBERSEK: We need to open up, we need to get back to normal. That's what the national plan does. But it can't be beyond us to do it sensibly and safely, and to work Federal government with the states to make sure that we're opening up safely. Don't forget, if you're in Queensland or WA at the moment, life's pretty normal for you. You might be QR coding in when you walk into a crowded cafe or a crowded restaurant, you'd be able to watch the footy, you'd be able to go out with your friends - there's none of the restrictions that we're facing here in New South Wales. The kids are in school. The businesses are doing alright. So, yes, we need to get life back to normal. But ask Scott Morrison why there's not enough vaccine to go around. Ask Scott Morrison why we don't have safe quarantine facilities. Ask Scott Morrison why we're not making the Pfizer-style vaccine here in Australia, like he promised months ago. Ask Scott Morrison why we don't even have aged care or disability workers vaccinated yet, despite the fact that aged care workers were supposed to be vaccinated by Easter. I mean, this is firmly a problem caused by Scott Morrison's lack of planning, his inability to buy enough vaccines from enough different companies to get Australians immunised, and his inability to provide a safe system of hotel quarantine. We've seen 27 outbreaks of the virus from hotel quarantine, and Queensland's finally decided to go it alone on quarantine. It's a profound lack of national leadership.
STEFANOVIC: You brought up the football. Would you be supportive of a vaccine passport? Whether it's to go to the football, whether it's to go to pubs or restaurants or anything of that nature? 
PLIBERSEK: Look, I heard a journalist say on Sunday a pub can say to you, you can't come in wearing a singlet and thongs. I think there will be more and more demand for people who are vaccinated, like me - I went out and got my two Jabs of AstraZeneca - I want to know when I'm going somewhere that that I'll be safe. I want the people who are looking after my mother-in-law in the Aged Care Facility where she is, I want them to be vaccinated. There will be increasing demand, I think, for people who have done the right thing to know that other people around them aren't going to give them the virus, because you can still get it even if you're vaccinated, you just don't get it as badly.
STEFANOVIC: Sure. But so that's a yes to a vaccine passport? 
PLIBERSEK: No, it's not a yes to a vaccine passport, it's yes to more people getting vaccinated and to making sensible decisions so that the people who refuse to because they can't be bothered protecting the health and safety of the people around them, facing the consequences of their decision.
STEFANOVIC: Just finally, Gladys Berejiklian yesterday, she says it's part of her plan to be able to reunite families by Christmas. I mean, it's debatable whether that's going to include interstate travel or not, but she's also talking about the possibility of being able to fly internationally, even though they cut the caps yesterday just quietly. Do you think that's overly ambitious? 
PLIBERSEK: Look, you know what, I'd be super happy if I could get my kids back to school. That's what I'm focused on at the moment. The kids are really suffering. You talked a moment ago about vaccine passports, I've got constituents ringing me every day saying that they've called doctor after doctor, they can't get an appointment for themselves or they can't get an appointment for their kids. I'm just looking to the next step, and the next step. And the next step is getting people the vaccines that they want and getting our kids back to school and making sure that our businesses survive this really terrible time.
STEFANOVIC: All right Tanya Plibersek, appreciate your time. Thanks as always. I'll talk to you soon. Tanya's had her AstraZeneca, I've had mine.

PLIBERSEK: It's always a pleasure, thanks.