ABC AFTERNOON BRIEFING
TUESDAY, 23 MARCH 2021
SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s attack on New Corp; culture in Parliament House; common decency.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time now for my panel, Liberal MP Russell Broadbent and Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones. Lovely to sort of see you both, and I'm going to start with you if I can Russell Broadbent. Malcolm Turnbull was just on the program and he said the Prime Minister made today's press conference all about him and weaponised a sexual harassment allegation in News Corporation to make a political point. Is that what he did?
RUSSELL BROADBENT: I didn't hear or all of your interview with Malcolm because we had a division in the house, but I heard him talk about thuggery and blokey, what'd he say, misogynistic behaviour within the house. So he must have experienced all of that while he was here. It's been a bad month. It's been a terrible week and it's been a horrific day. What more can I say PK?
KARVELAS: I think that's a good summation, but I suppose what the Prime Minister was trying to do Russell today was mea culpa, acknowledge the mistakes he's made. But then he ended up sort of turning on a reporter and mentioning that there was a sexual harassment allegation in News Corporation. Was that really appropriate?
BROADBENT: It was strange. I thought he understood the situation. Obviously, he's been having a lot of conversations with a number of women, as we all have, and has come to an understanding of the appropriate responses. No, and the Clennell response was not something I understood at all. But moving on from that, I've just got to say to you that what I've looked at is not what the experience of women, because we know what that is. It's been very clear what that is. And I would also say to you there's been a lot of discussions about women, but I think this is a men's problem, Patricia, a men’s problem. The culture has to change, not only in our workplaces and in buildings like this, but it must be stunning that this whole tsunami of sexual innuendo allegations and actual actions has flowed out in the Parliament of Australia. Not in some ordinary workplace somewhere, right here in the Parliament of Australia in the seat of power for the nation. And I think there's a message in that, that if it's pervasive here and we are representative of the community, Patricia, then it's pervasive across the whole nation.
KARVELAS: Are you ashamed of being part of, well I'm not saying you’re a perpetrator in that culture, but part of that place given all of these stories that are swirling around now?
BROADBENT: I'm not ashamed of being a federal Member of Parliament because I feel honoured every time I walk into the building to represent the people I represent, including the nation as a whole. I am crestfallen, and broken-hearted, smashed about what has happened in the last 24 hours. It has been very distressing for a lot of people, but no more distressing for the women that have had to relive their trauma ever since the 15th on the Monday when they gathered right across Australia to voice their opinions.
KARVELAS: Stephen Jones, some very powerful words there from Russell Broadbent who clearly also agreed with me and it certainly my view that it was a bit odd for the Prime Minister to mention an allegation in another organisation like that. Did you see it as a weaponisation of that complaint?
STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Look I did. You know, for the first ten minutes of the prime minister's interview I thought were excellent, I've got to say. There you go, you wouldn't have expected a Labor MP to say that, but I thought the first 10 minutes were excellent. He acknowledged we had a deep-seated culture problem in this building and in this country. The last ten minutes made me question whether it was genuine about the first ten minutes, because he then weaponised an allegation since denied by the media organisation that it was levelled against. And just now Russell and I have just walked back from Parliament where we had a wonderful opportunity to put politics aside and grasp the issue in a motion moved by the independent MP Zali Steggall to debate her proposition to update our sexual harassment and anti-discrimination laws. Now if ever there was a moment to put politics aside, to follow up the excellent words in the first 10 minutes of your press conference, that was it. Let's vote unanimously to say we need to update and upgrade our sexual harassment laws. And let's do it united as an entire Parliament putting politics apart. A great opportunity wasted.
KARVELAS: Yeah look Russell, this is actually a point that Malcolm Turnbull was making too, that this report needs to be actioned. Now the Prime Minister turned up today and said he doesn't have you know, it's not a day of solutions, and I'm paraphrasing here not quoting directly to be very clear, but that he wanted to make this statement about his empathy and the fact that he's been listening. Is it time for action though? I mean are we bit sort of tired of empathy?
BROADBENT: You and I might differ here, but when I talked about wanting the gathering of women across Australia from all races, all creed's, every geographical area, I don't want to talk to the summit people and just have their views about what we should do. I want to talk to the mountain. I want to talk to the women across Australia and that takes time. And that's why I suggested the gathering PK. I suggested the gathering because I want to hear from the women of Australia and not just a few peak bodies who have had their input into this for such a long time. I want to hear from the mountain of people not the summit. So that's why I'm saying to you, I don't want the Prime Minister come out and say we're going to do this, this and this tomorrow, it's all over. No, I want some reasonable consideration. I want opportunities for women's groups to be able to do their homework, to be able to press into this. And so we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address this issue after 235 years as George Megaloginas said in his article of a couple of weeks ago. You know, this is the moment, this is the time, this is the opportunity. So let's not muck it up. Let's not muck it up by rushing into this.
KARVELAS: Is it your sense that so far we're mucking it up?
BROADBENT: No, I'm not saying we're mucking it up. And let's consider what we're going to do, not race into, say we’ll make a few remarks about this or how we're going to go about it and then not get a resolution. I want an outcome. I want a resolution. I want the nation's cultural approach to this issue changed.
KARVELAS: Stephen, interesting points made by Russell there, that we need to actually hear from women. Do you think that would be a good way forward?
JONES: Look, of course. And I know Russell to be genuine and his passion on this issue. He’s not one of those blokes as just stood up in the last five minutes and said this has got a bit hot, I better get on the right side of this issue. I know him to be genuine. But I disagree with his conclusions. In the last fortnight, by my count we've had no less than six enquiries called by the Prime Minister or the ministers responsible into various incidents or behaviours that have gone on in this place. And that comes on top of the inquiry, a thoroughgoing inquiry that was conducted into the effectiveness of our sex discrimination and anti-harassment laws in this country. Fifty-five recommendations been sitting on the Industrial Relations and Attorney-General Minister's office for well over 12 months. Some of those recommendations go to updating our industrial relations laws. We had this Parliament basically engrossed in industrial relations changes for the last month. None of the amendments in the industrial relations laws picked up the recommendation from the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s review, the [email protected] review. So frankly, if we're not going to implement the recommendations that are already before us, women are a little bit entitled to be cynical about us calling another summit, another gathering, another inquiry, another review if we haven't digested and implemented all of the work that has been put before us in the past. Yes, we should be listening but yes, we should actually be doing as well.
KARVELAS: Russell Broadbent, the Prime Minister has put the gender quotas on the table and clearly wants to proceed with something there. Do you think that's necessary?
BROADBENT: I think it's a good idea. Judith Troeth pushed this for a long time when she was a Senator. I'm sure that Edith Lyons would have wanted that. And I'm sure Margaret Guilfoyle would have liked that, but as Malcolm said it's really hard in a grassroots organisation. You don't tell them what to do. I'm afraid Stephen missed the point of what I'm saying. Yes, we've had the reports. Yes, we've had the peak bodies tell us what they think we should do and yes, there may be some. But Stephen, you know, you haven't passed anything in industrial relations. Why would you bring everything forward in industrial relations in this country with the Labor Party stance as it is? Having said that no, I want the broader Australian community, the females, the women of this nation, broadly to have a say. Not Federal Members, not State Government Members, not Local Government Members. Real people that have real communities that want to see change.
KARVELAS: and Russell, I just want to stay with you before I let you both go, because we're very much focused on these issues today, and ask you this. I want to sort of end where we started. And you mentioned that men, this is a men's issue, right? What do men need to do here in the Parliament? What do men need to demonstrate here? Because it seems that it's often kind of hived off as a women's issue, women standing, up women being trailblazers. If we flip that script, what's the responsibility on men here?
BROADBENT: What about respect? Reasonable relationship? Common sense, which there seems to be no common sense? I mean, these are the things that we grew up with, which were normal, and normality has seen to be blown out the window. I can't understand what sort of a nation produces a Parliament House, even though so much of it is fly-in fly-out as compared to what it used to be, and that’s staff and all so it's a unique situation. However, it's representative of the nation. So therefore what sort of national culture do we have that produces this in the Federal Parliament? I think you've just got to go back to basics and say what is my relationship with other people be they female or male?
KARVELAS: So do you think there is a toxic male culture?
BROADBENT: Well, the proof is in the pudding. If women feel threatened in this place, you'd have to say yes. I've never experienced it. But then again, I've been the person in, you know, supposedly in the powerful position. So I don't know, you know, I haven't been the person on the other end of the stick Patricia. And you know, we have to address that, that this is about the interaction of powerful people with others who may be threatened. And that's the honest situation that we face in here, and that's why I want to give the people of Australia the opportunity to have their say. It's not about another inquiry. It's about politicians like myself owning the issues, facing up to the issues, and then addressing them like Stephen wanted.
KARVELAS: So Stephen, you know Russell has just said that he does think there's a toxic male culture. Do you think that's bigger than just in the Parliament, we've got a toxic masculinity going on across the country?
JONES: Look, I can talk for my own party and I can talk from my own experience as having been an employer in the past. That point in time when you've got more men, more women than men in a workplace, in your partyroom, in your boardroom, it flips the culture. It changes the dialogue, it changes the way the dialogue happens. So I do think at the very least parity matters. I think getting more women at or every level within your party absolutely matters because it does make a difference. It does change the culture. All got a job of work to do on that. You know, there are some things that you know, you really don't need a cultural awareness course to tell you that you shouldn't be doing some pretty revolting things in your colleague’s offices. Frankly, that's just about being a decent human being, and a bit more of that would go a long way. I disagree with Russell on the issue of quotas. I see when we did the hard work in the 1990s and implemented that, it made a huge difference. I guess, you know, I'd finish on the old cliché, if what you're doing all be it well-meaning isn't working then it's time to step back and say maybe we've got to try a different approach. And what we've been doing hasn't been working. So different approach is needed. Us being better human beings and better Parliamentarians is a pretty good place to start.
KARVELAS: Russell just finally, the Prime Minister's office has revealed that the Prime Minister in his address to coalition staff has highlighted that three actions are being taken. One of them is mandatory workplace health and safety training for all coalition staff, and that the training is face-to-face and a ministerial register for staff induction and professional conduct for al ministerial offices. It sounds good, but it's pretty astonishing that it hasn't happened yet, right, up until what are we 2021? They’re standard things everywhere else.
BROADBENT: I would go back to Stephen’s line on common decency. I mean, you don't have to be taught common decency. Surely you it is part of your makeup, common decency. Responsibility to others, responsibility to those you’re working with, responsibility of the people that put you here that that you represent. You know, responsibility to respond when somebody else is in crisis. I just think that common decency should prevail and there should not be a need for having to go through all of those hoops and jumps. My staff would find that incredible.