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25 March 2021



SUBJECTS: Allegations against NSW Nationals MP; Prime Minister’s press conference; Cabinet reshuffle; Latest Newspoll; Vaccine rollout; JobKeeper.

MARCUS PAUL, HOST: Good morning Kristina.

PAUL: It's great to talk to you. What a week. Where do we even start? I played some audio that you had up on your social media, you're being interviewed on Sky News, where you made some very valid points about the visceral anger being felt by women around Australia.

KENEALLY: Marcus, it's been a really difficult week, not just here in the Parliament, but I think more importantly, across the country, as we are just seeing this national conversation sparked by a brave young woman, Brittany Higgins, who came forward with her story of an alleged rape in Parliament House in a Minister's office. How she was made to feel like a political problem to be managed, not a person who deserved rights and dignity and justice. 

And you know, Marcus, so many women, across the country, are now talking about their experiences of assault and harassment and rape, and it's devastating, but it's so important. And I think the part you know, the point you were making in there in your question is that there is a lot of anger and frustration about, one, we're still having these conversations in 2021. But two, really, a Prime Minister, who for now, five, six weeks just hasn't heard what women are saying.

PAUL: Well, I understand, just before I get on to Scott Morrison and some possible changes to his cabinet, in New South Wales – I don't know whether you're aware of the news this morning, but a Nationals MP yesterday, under parliamentary privilege in State Parliament, was outed as a person who allegedly raped a sex worker in the Blue Mountains. Now this Nationals MP, Michael Johnsen, has outed himself overnight, releasing a statement. It's important to mention, of course, that these are allegations and police are investigating. He's not been charged with anything, but I think it goes to the point that more and more women are now speaking up over this.

KENEALLY: It does go to that point, and that circumstance is shocking and concerning, and, of course, the police should investigate that allegation. But it to the broader point, to the broader point, that, you know, women are looking to Brittany Higgins, and they said, 'you know what, she's right, if it can happen in Parliament, it can happen anywhere. And it's happened to me, and I am not going to sit here silently and suffer anymore.'

And it is extraordinary, Marcus, I dare say, and this may, you know, startle some of your listeners, but I dare say there is not a woman in Australia, who is not herself been the victim of harassment or assault, or doesn't know someone who is. And that is a startling thing to comprehend that in Australia, which is supposed to be a free, open, safe society, that those are the types of things that are going on behind closed doors. And so yes, women are angry, they are angry. And that's why they had that March for Justice. 

And I think that's one of the most extraordinary things I have seen in my entire political life, that 110,000 women just answered a call-out on Twitter and organized themselves to get up in cities across the country, and to say “enough is enough, and we want justice”. Now, that's an – that's an organic movement. It wasn't, you know, there was no mass body organizing that, there was no money put behind the promotion of it. It was literally women getting up out of their chairs, leaving their houses and their workplaces, and saying, you know, what I am standing with Brittany Higgins, enough is enough.

PAUL: Alright, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is considering legal advice about Attorney-General Christian Porter in a step that could lead him to move the cabinet minister to a different position, while he sues the ABC over its reporting of allegations of rape against him. Defence Minister Linda Reynolds is also tipped to depart the cabinet. I think the Prime Minister is seeing the writing on the wall here. He cannot go to the next federal election with these two members in their current positions. It'd be untenable, surely?

KENEALLY: It would be Marcus, and, you know, I've said for some time now, as has Anthony Albanese our leader, that Linda Reynolds position is completely untenable. She was, she lacked the competence to be the Defence Minister before these Brittany Higgins revelations came forward, and since then she's done things like call Brittany Higgins a lying cow. I mean, I don't think you can call a rape victim, a lying cow and deserve to keep your ministry. So the Prime Minister's failed to act for weeks now on Linda Reynolds. 

And really but just look at the Christian Porter proposition here. Christian Porter is supposed to be able to come back to work apparently, on a full time salary, but yet be a part-time Attorney General – he's going to have parts of his job taken away and given to other people so there's no conflict of interest so he can sue the ABC. 

Now, Marcus, there are women across Australia who are trying to escape domestic violence. They have to go to court. They need to go through legal proceedings to escape their abuser. And Scott Morrison is not giving them any paid domestic violence leave, he is steadfastly refusing. How can we have a circumstance where the Attorney General can sue the ABC for defamation, be a part time Attorney General on a full time salary, and yet, women escaping domestic violence don't get the same consideration? They don't get paid time off from their jobs, to go escape their abusers. It's extraordinary. Extraordinary that Scott Morrison thinks he can just have Christian Porter act as the first law officer of the land as if nothing has happened here.

PAUL: Alright, well, Cabinet Ministers with the law degrees necessary to replace the Attorney General, if that's what will happen, they include Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, Health Minister Greg Hunt, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash – I think she's the form runner here. I can sense I can sense a bit of mirth in your chuckle there. What do you make of it? Who - - - 

KENEALLY: Oh no, it was a cough, for the record.

PAUL: Oh, it was a cough.

KENEALLY: It was not a chuckle.

PAUL: Oh good. Alright, well, who will, in your opinion move into this vitally important role?

KENEALLY: That's a decision entirely for the Prime Minister - who is in his Cabinet is up to him, and that's been my criticism and my objection of the Prime Minister's role is that for weeks now. He has left, one, he's left the proposition on the table that Linda Reynolds and Christian Porter can come back as if none of this has ever happened. And two, that he has not applied the test he is meant to apply, and that is, do these people remain fit and proper people to stay in his Cabinet? And he's not even he's not even thought to have an inquiry or ask himself that question. He's just gone out there and asserted it. 

This comes down to – a Cabinet has always come down to a question of a prime minister's judgment, and that it is his judgment. I look, obviously, we'll work with whoever's in the portfolio. But let me be clear about two things here. One, these are key national security portfolios, Attorney General and Defence Minister. They need to go to someone who's got capability to handle them. Up to now Linda Reynolds, hasn't had that capability. And I dare say that Christian Porter doesn't have the capability any longer. 

Secondly, and I think this is a really important point, the Government are simply running out of people. It's like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic here. The ministry is a shambles. They don't, they're running out of ministers literally.

PAUL: Alright. Finally, can you see in the latest Newspoll we got a couple of weeks ago, had Labor ahead 52-48, two party preferred. Can you, and this is before all of the marches and before the press conference by the Prime Minister the other day, can you see the Federal Government losing further support because of recent events, say in the last couple of weeks, including the Women's March?

KENEALLY: Well, Marcus, I don't want to run a running commentary on any particular poll, but I do think that people are starting to see Scott Morrison for what he is. He's all about the announcement. He's never there for the delivery. And you know, if we can take a step back and look at some other issues, yet, we were supposed to have four million Australians vaccinated by the end of March. We're almost to the end of March, and we are going to miss that target by approximately 4 million people. This is a Prime Minister who's more interested in the announcement than he is in the delivery.

PAUL: Well, what about JobKeeper? I mean, even the Government's own estimates suggest that in excess of 150,000 – possibly more – people in the next couple of weeks could find themselves unemployed.

KENEALLY: This is the Government is literally leaving people behind. As we come out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, we've got 2 million Australians unemployed or underemployed. They can't get enough hours at work to pay their bills. We've got another million and a half that are on JobSeeker, the old NewStart, that's more than double than before the pandemic and now the Government is cutting JobKeeper off at the knees. It just disappears at the end of March. 

So, and this is important to understand, they are not delivering the vaccine, but they're completely withdrawing the support. I mean, that is a recipe for economic calamity, particularly for those people who are going to lose their jobs and lose their income.

PAUL: Alright, Kristina, thank you for joining as always on the program. We'll talk again soon.

KENEALLY: Thanks Marcus.