30 November 2021

SUBJECTS: Jenkins Report; religious discrimination
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Now for my political panel, Liberal MP Warren Entsch and Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Stephen Jones. Welcome to both of you.
STEPHEN JONES: Great to be with you.
KARVELAS: Let's start on that report if we can, that's been handed to the Prime Minister, that's been released, the Jenkins Report. Warren Entsch, one in three employees have been harassed while at work in Parliament House, which is a really alarming number. Have you witnessed any of this this behaviour and why has it been going on?
ENTSCH: Well, first of all, you know, I've been in here for a long time. I first came in in 1996. But I certainly, you know, you hear stories occasionally about something that may or may not have occurred. And in the years that I've been here, I had one incidence, one incident, in my office, quite a number of years ago which involved my staff.  One of those staff, I had to find new employment within about 24 hours of my becoming aware of the situation because I have a very much a zero tolerance on it. I certainly was not aware even in all the years that I've been here to the extent that was outlined in the Jenkins report. And that being the case, expect that whatever is necessary to be able to address that situation I think needs to be done. There’s 28 recommendations there. I would hope and expect that those 28 recommendations will be implemented. From what I've heard from the Prime Minister, he is very much determined to make sure that that actually occurs.
KARVELAS: Stephen, are you satisfied by the response from the government? They say, they want to implement these recommendations. Obviously, it would affect the whole Parliament. So it needs to be bipartisan. Are you satisfied that, that would deal with the cultural issues in Parliament House that have led to this appalling behaviour?
JONES:  Look it’s a though-going report with lots of recommendations. To be honest, Patricia, I haven’t had the opportunity to read through all of it yet. I intend to do that over the next couple of days. But it really is hard reading the stuff that I've read so far in the report. I think we all should be ashamed of what's going on in Parliament House. On the people who put their trust in us and the people who serve us, I think it really is a volume of shame and it really behoves all of us, and each of us as individuals, the political parties that make up this place as well, to ensure that we see this as something that enables us to move forward better and not to just put on the shelf, let the dust collect around it and ignore the recommendations. We've got to do better.
KARVELAS: Yeah, the recommendations are all there now before you, so I suppose it is about acting on them. Twenty-six percent of people sexually harassed in the Commonwealth parliamentary workplace were actually harassed by a  parliamentarian and that's pretty disturbing. Warren Entsch, how do you change that culture where clearly some parliamentarians think that they're bulletproof that they can get away with this kind of disgusting behaviour?
ENTSCH: Clearly, that's totally unacceptable. And, you know, I mean, in my own personal experience, if someone, a staff member of another parliamentarian staff member, was to raise an issue with me that something might be happening another office, I wouldn't hesitate to encourage them, or to report it and actually make reports myself. I think it's important that I think what this is going to do is going to provide a mechanism and for people that feel that they have an issue, they experienced this type of treatment. There are, there will be a mechanism that will allow them to be able to report it. And there will be a process in place that I'm to quite honest with you. As I said, I haven't been, I mean I was aware of cases from time to time and I've actually reported a couple of key cases of concern that I've had in the past. But I certainly was not aware of the widespread nature of it, as has been reported.
KARVELAS: I don’t mean to be rude to interrupt but what areas of concern did you report that you were concerned about?

ENTSCH: Well, not so much on a sexual nature but on inappropriate bullying, and aggressive or inappropriately aggressive behaviour to staff by members, who I thought that were totally out of line and they needed to show a little bit more respect, or a lot more respect in relation to it. Other than one case that I had in my office, I'm years ago, which was of a sexual nature. And as I said, I dealt with that comprehensively to the point where I the victim on it, I spoke at length to her and actually had her give me direction on what she needed to to see happen to make sure that the matter was fully addressed. And she was totally happy with the outcome. But other than that, I do, I have had from time to time where I've had staff or heard and I've actually reached out to staff in other areas and this is over an extended period of time, it's not a daily basis where they've had been either yelled at or abused or had something thrown at them and things like this. Totally inappropriate. And I have raised concerns about that in the
you know, with the senior Ministers.
KARVELAS: And has it been dealt with? Because this is the thing, a lot of these staffers, at least in this report, felt like they couldn't raise things or that there wasn't a serious treatment of these issues.
ENTSCH: I mean people haven't come back to me repeatedly and said, well as continuing to happen. So, I mean, I've assumed that it's been dealt with. My door’s always been open with people to be able to come and talk to me about these issues. And I'm known. I mean, I was the chief opposition whip there for an extended period of time. So you have an opportunity to get more information on these. And as I said, I had a zero tolerance on it. There were there was the odd case. But you know what I saw from what I saw in this report, it's much more widespread than I ever thought of. And there are some mechanisms now that are being put in, recommended to be put into place, which will certainly, rather than having them find a friendly within the Parliament House to raise concerns with, there will be an appropriate mechanism in there that will allow them to do that. And there is also going to be a mechanism in that will require the employer, and the case of members and senators, to actually also report what they've done in relation to dealing with it. I don't think that's a bad thing. I think it's something that needs to happen.
KARVELAS: Stephen Jones, I want to ask you about the language used by Anthony Albanese, the Opposition Leader today because it's been raised in my interview with Simon Birmingham. He says he called out this language and said that you know, all language needs to improve in Parliament. He told Peter Dutton to “sit down, boofhead”. Is that appropriate?
JONES: Look frankly this Question Time was a pretty willing session. There was a fair bit of mud being slung around and some pretty atrocious things being said in the Parliament. I think in the context of that, Anthony's response was warranted. And I think there was some pretty ordinary things going on. Should we behave like that? Should we be talking like that? On the whole, no. From time to time, as the Speaker himself said, this is not a monastic library. It is an adversarial chamber. I do want to go to some of the things that Warren has said. I think we've all got to lift the standard not just inside the chamber. Most of it, in fact none of the behaviour that's complained about in this report happens in the public gaze. It all happens behind closed doors. And I think there's got to be mechanisms, as the report recommends, for staff to either individually or collectively have these issues dealt with. You ask Warren whether he was surprised por whether he’d seen it. I wasn't. Prior to coming to Parliament, I used to represent people who worked as staff as a union representative. And I'd see this stuff from time to time coming on and inevitably it led, when a staff member raised this issue, it led to that staff member leaving the building, maybe with a compensation package, maybe without. But that person had to start their life again. That's not good enough when they aren't the person who's done something wrong.
KARVELAS: Yeah, look I worked there for nearly a decade and I wasn't surprised by this report. Warren Entsch, I have to ask you about the religious discrimination legislation. Are you comfortable with that legislation?
ENTSCH: No, in a word.
KARVELAS: What's wrong with it?
ENTSCH: Look, I've always argued that there, in my view, there was no real need for it. However, there are others that would argue the other way. I've always, but I was I was not happy with the original draft. I have to say it's come a long way, particularly in relation to a couple of the clauses that now have been removed.
KARVELAS: But there’s still that statement that that you can make …
ENTSCH: Statements of belief is something that I have serious concerns about.
KARVELAS: What are you worried about?
ENTSCH: Well, I don't want people to feel that they can use their views as, if you like, as a shield. That they can say hurtful and inappropriate comments relating to somebody else that may not be sharing their faith and feel that they can, you make those comments without any fear of retribution. Because while you're while legislating for their right to do that you're actually removing the right from another individual to be able to take appropriate action to defend themselves. Now, having said that, I understand, you know, there's certainly a strong push out there, particularly from the Australian Christian Lobby, that they want this through. I think that. And so I accept that, and if there are gaps, I mean, I understand, I have no issue with protecting rights of people of faith. And if there are gaps in the current discrimination law, that allows that sort of abuse to occur then I'm all for filling in those gaps. But I will, in filling those gaps in we've just got to make sure that the what we end up with is not something that will then allow them to make comments or judgments on at the expense of others.
KARVELAS: So is it something you're prepared to cross the floor on, particularly in relation to …

ENTSCH:  Patricia, I don't make threats on this. My views on this, as I've said a long time ago, you know, I spent 19 years of my political career removing discrimination from some sections of our community. And I'm not prepared to sit back and just allow some of those to be re-imposed for whatever reason. I will do, I will defend the rights for people of faith as well. But I just got to make sure that it's not an expense of others. Now, it doesn't I mean to say that if we work this process through, I mean I've got like I've two sides. One of the things that concerns me is this has come five minutes before midnight if you like. And it hasn't had an opportunity, I know there's been some revisions, and I know there's been some improvements on it. But nevertheless, you know, to say right here let's just wave it through and everything will be fine, this is why I've been pushing very strongly for it to go into a The Joint Standing. Commission Committee on Human Rights, which it's been referred to allow further scrutiny of it. To make sure that there are no prickles or no other areas where there, you know, there was an issue in relation to students and to teachers as well. That's currently been under discussion. And so what my view is that I don't want the bill to be voted on in the House of Representatives and passed through the committee. I'd rather just as it's happening now, it goes into the committee. Let them have a close look at it. I'll be certainly seeking advice from the, you know, watching the process. Once that's finished and we see where, it may well be that after that's done in some of these issues are dealt with and I may well support it.
JONES: Can I just say I think it's an extraordinary act of virtue signalling by the Prime Minister. And that was made obvious yesterday when the parliamentary calendar was published and it blatantly clear that we've got 10 sitting days between now and the next election. This bill will not get voted on. There is zero chance that this bill gets voted on. The Prime Minister just wanted to send a big signal to the community that this was something that he wanted to do and pick a fight with Labor. Well, we're not going to give him a fight on this. But the real damage that gets done …

ENTSCH: (indistinct)
JONES: I sat in silence for four and a half hours listening to you Warren, do hear me out. The great damage that occurs is you cause a rift in the community that doesn't exist. I've been in countries where they don't have religious freedom. I have spent extensive time in countries where people can't speak their mind or practice their faith. Australia is not one of those countries. This is a solution in search of a problem that does not exist. We're not going to pick a fight on it, but we're going to be very, very sure that Scott Mount Morrison's bill doesn't actually drive faith communities backwards. Because so often when you legislate these things, far from protecting rights of communities, you actually make them worse. And we have an immense fear that Scott Morrison's enormous act of virtue signalling will do exactly that.