By Tanya Plibersek

24 March 2021




SUBJECTS: Quotas; Sexual assault and sexual harassment. 

WALEED ALY, HOST: We did approach the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, and frankly most of the prominent cabinet Liberal Party women, but none of them made themselves available to us tonight. Labor's Tanya Plibersek did, and she's been good enough to join us now. So Tanya you're in an interesting position here because your timing, you joined Parliament about the time that Labor had just gotten into its gender quota. So you've seen a lot of the journey Labor's been through, and it's almost reached its 50% target now. What difference would you say quotas made to the culture within the Parliamentary Labor Party?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: I think it's made a huge difference. When I first started here in Parliament House there was a bar, now that's a childcare centre that members of parliament and staff can use. More importantly than the culture inside the place, is the impact we have on the community. Our policies around child care, paid domestic violence leave, reducing the gender pay gap, superannuation for women. A lot of these policies are there because there are women to champion them inside the Labor Party.

ALY: Yet for all that on the sort of more hard-edged issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault around Parliament House that we've been hearing about, there have been complaints both official and unofficial anonymised online against the Labor Party and also the Greens, who have more female representation along those sorts of lines. So what is it that quotas can't achieve? Like can they deal or how far can they go in dealing with those sorts of concerns? 

PLIBERSEK: No political party is immune from problems like sexual harassment. And I a hundred percent agree with you. I think the really important thing we see is a Labor Party that's saying please come forward. If you've got a complaint, these are the mechanisms that you use. We will back you. We will support you. We don't want this happening. Not to anyone. Not to anyone in Parliament House, and not to anyone in any Australian workplace. We need to make sure when we're talking about sexual harassment at work, we're not just talking about Parliament House, we're saying that every workplace should be safe. 

PETER HELLIAR, HOST: Tanya, Australians have been absolutely shocked to hear about what goes on behind our Parliamentary walls. Did you have any idea that any of this was going on?

PLIBERSEK: I'm sad and angry about it. But I'm not really surprised that that happens. I have been a little bit, I mean gobsmacked really, by some of the other reports. I just don't get- I mean some of this stuff is just gross. And I just don't understand why people are masturbating at work. I'm sorry. I just don't get it. 

ALY: I've no idea how to follow up on that. 

CARRIE BICKMORE HOST: I was going to ask though we've been hearing from a lot of Ministers saying that stories have been circulating for years, had you heard the stories? Even if you wondered if they were really true?

PLIBERSEK: It's a big workplace. You do hear stories about the meditation room being used for things other than meditating. I suppose, really, what I'm most concerned about though are the most serious allegations here. We've got an allegation of a sexual assault that occurred in a Minister's office, that seems to have been swept under the carpet, just treated like a political problem. Obviously, that's not good enough. We've got another very serious allegation of sexual assault against a senior Minister, that the Government's refusing to properly investigate – wants again just to treat it like a political problem and sweep it under the carpet. It’s just not good enough. Because if we do that, at the heart of our democracy, we send a really strong message that this stuff doesn't matter. If we want to be a country where women are safe at work, at home, on the street, then we have to take these complaints seriously when they happen here at the heart of our democracy. 

ALY: Right so on exactly that, The Australian has only just now reported that there's an expectation in senior ranks of the Government that Scott Morrison is about to do a Cabinet reshuffle, and in that reshuffle dump Christian Porter and Linda Reynolds who are the two relevant ministers from their ministries and assign those portfolios to other people. That's just The Australian’s reporting at this stage, and it's an expectation, not a fact. But if that turns out to be true do you think that would be enough to move us past the current crisis?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's very difficult for either of those ministers to stay in their portfolios. But I really think if we continue just to treat this like a political problem to be managed, we're not getting to the heart of it. At the heart of this is a profound disrespect for women, and we've got to deal with that. We've got to deal with the fact that there was a sexual assault in this building, allegedly, that has just been treated like a political problem to be swept under the carpet. Moving the personnel around - 

ALY: But we shouldn't assume that's necessarily just a political response. Might that not be the beginning of a genuine engagement with the issue?

PLIBERSEK: When the Prime Minister honestly answers questions about whether his media unit have been briefing against Brittany Higgins loved ones. When the Government honestly answers questions about who knew what, when, and why this hasn't been investigated fully. When the Government answers questions about why it refuses to have an independent inquiry into the allegations against Christian Porter. Then I'll believe that they're actually interested in getting to the heart of the problem. 

ALY: Tanya, thank you very much for speaking with us tonight. 

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.