21 March 2021




SUBJECTS: March4Justice; Parliament House culture; Christian Porter; report on skilled migration; wage theft.
DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Welcome to the programme.
SPEERS: So Janine Hendry, we just saw there, really highlighting the need for systemic change as well as cultural change. Is it clear to you exactly what sort of change is needed?
KENEALLY: David, we're seeing a seismic moment in Australia. 110,000 women don't just go out and march in the streets. And by the way, there was no organisation behind this. There was no funding, there was no mass movement except the mass movement of women who just said enough is enough. They have been galvanised by reports of a rape; an alleged rape of Brittany Higgins, a young woman in the Minister's office, on a Minister's couch. And by Brittany Higgins’ own account, she was treated as a political problem to be managed - not as a person, a human with dignity and rights. And what that has galvanised for so many women is the recognition that throughout their lives, they have been subject to harassment or assault or they know someone who has, and they have recognised and seen in Brittany Higgins their own experiences.
And I make this point, David, that this is a seismic moment, because it is a moment where we are looking for leadership. And when it comes to these moments, leaders don't always get to pick their moments. Sometimes the moment picks them and the country has been looking to Scott Morrison for leadership and sadly it has been lacking.
SPEERS: What should he do in terms of practical change, systemic changes, Janine Hendry pointed out even legal change. Have you got ideas that you think he should be taking?
KENEALLY: David, there's not a single magic bullet here. This is not something that can be solved by a process or just one piece of legislation. This is a moment where we might learn from reflecting on what previous leaders have done. Think of the Mabo decision, and how Paul Keating responded with the Redfern speech and a raft of legislative and other political changes to reset the relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Think about the Port Arthur massacre, where John Howard recognised that a country in mourning and in shock was looking to him to comfort and to assure and to provide safety. He stood up in front of an angry mob and made a change that is now widely supported across Australia. I'm not here to tell the Prime Minister what his message should be or what steps he should take.
In a moment like this, where there is a galvanised country and where there are people who are hurting, let's understand this is not just as the Government's been spinning - tertiary educated women. There are women in every workplace and church and school across this country who are talking about their experiences of sexual assault and rape. What the Prime Minister needs to do is listen, reflect and speak from his convictions.
SPEERS: Clearly, this is an issue bigger than any individual steps. But let me put a couple of ideas to you that have come up in this debate around the culture in Parliament House. In particular, would you support some basic steps to modernise the workplace like more normalised hours? No drinking while you're there on the job?
KENEALLY: David, I have to say when I first came to the Federal Parliament, as a member of the Press Gallery, in fact, I was struck by the intersection between sex and power in that building. It was unlike any workplace I had ever seen. And yes, there needs to be cultural change. But I don't think this is a moment in Australia that just relates to politicians. I don't think it just relates to Parliament House. Brittany Higgins was right to say that her alleged rape inside that building said to women across Australia – “this can happen anywhere. This can happen to anyone.” But I think we have a broader issue to confront here. And that is we have a nation where women are right now speaking up and crying out for justice.
SPEERS: But nonetheless, it's an important workplace. We're talking about setting standards for the nation. Just coming back to that point about practical changes that could be made. Should there be alcohol in the building?
KENEALLY: Well, I could say there are some very real issues when it comes to the behaviour of people in Canberra. There is a school camp attitude that sometimes exists, let's be blunt about it. And what we need to ensure is that women are safe in their workplace and if they can't be safe in Parliament House, there is a legitimate question to ask what needs to change. Now Kate Jenkins has been brought in to do that work. Labor called for an independent inquiry. We asked for it to be done in a bipartisan manner and we are happy that is happening.
SPEERS: Nicolle Flint did speak about her experience at the last election during the week the constant abuse that she copped, online, the graffiti on her Electorate Office, being followed as well. Were you aware of what she copped? And was it any surprise to you?
KENEALLY: I wasn't aware of the specifics. But I have to say when I heard her account of the experiences she had, I was appalled. I was angry. I was sad. No woman who stands for public office should be copping that kind of abuse. But was I surprised? No.
David, I first ran for public office when I was 32. I'm now 52. And the stories that Nicolle Flint told are ones I recognise from my own experience, and ones I recognise from those of my colleagues. We saw that it's across the political aisle. But again, this isn't about politicians. Nicole's stories resonate, my own stories would resonate, because they're the experience of women across Australia.
I spoke to a business owner in one of my duty electorates this weekend, he's got about 90 employees. He's had to bring in counsellors because women in that workplace are coming forward to talk about their experiences. Chanel Contos, the young woman in Sydney who has started this petition, some of the stories that young women are telling. I stood at that March, David, and there was an older woman, she would have been in her 70s she was on a walking stick, she was sitting on a folding chair. But when Brittany Higgins came, she wanted to stand and witness and watch and I stood there and held her up. You know, for people to think this is just an issue that affects women in Parliament, or just affects tertiary educated women is to misunderstand the anger and the rage.
And by the way, I stand with Bridget Archer, the Liberal MP when she said she attended the rally because of rage. That's how I feel. That is how women across this country feel right now. And when they look to their Prime Minister, and when they look to their Minister for Women, they are seeing silence, they are not getting a response.
SPEERS: Labor has though, over the last few weeks been critical of how the Government has handled particular cases. The Brittany Higgins case in particular. This week, we did see through a closed Facebook group, former and current Labor staff raising concerns about sexual harassment, sexual abuse by unnamed Labor figures. Have you been aware of any of these allegations? And how have they been handled? If they have been brought to your attention?
KENEALLY: David, I read the accounts on that Facebook page. They're distressing. They're wrong, they should not happen. And yes, I was angry that there are women within our Party who are having those experiences still today.
But as I said, this is a societal problem. I'm not naive enough to think that any part of society including the Labor Party will be immune, I see my responsibility as a senior woman in this party to ensure that we have robust processes and policies in place. And I acknowledge a lot of work that's been done by Sharon Claydon, my colleague and others. And we have just delivered a new complaints process. I also see my responsibility to provide advice, support for women to tell their stories, to tell them through where they are respected and heard, and confidentially if they require it.
SPEERS: But have you ever had to deal with sexual harassment complaints that have come to you even from within your office or those around you?
KENEALLY: David, I'm not going to sit here on national television and canvass conversations I have had with women no matter what their party affiliation, or what level of Government in which they serve, and tell their stories without their consent. But let me be clear…
SPEERS: I'm not asking you to do that. To be clear. I'm just saying the process has been the concern that Labor's had and raised over the last few weeks. Are you satisfied, that the process has worked or has not worked in the cases you've been involved in?
KENEALLY: What I have seen is the work that we've done now to deliver a new complaint process I think is an appropriate one. One that says to women, if they have complaints to bring forward, they can do so in a clear way. with  support people identified, where they will be treated with respect and where confidentiality will be provided if it is required.
SPEERS: Do you think Christian Porter should return to his role?
KENEALLY: David, when I talk about rage and anger that the Australian women are feeling, let's look at the proposition that's being put here. That Christian Porter can return to his job as Attorney General, on a full time salary, but doing the part time work. That parts of his job will be hived off artificially to other people. And he will be able to be given the time and the space on his full time salary to fight his defamation case.
David, wouldn't it be wonderful if women who are victims of domestic violence in this country had access to paid leave when they have to go to court to escape their abusers? Wouldn't that be fantastic? Instead, what are women who are in that situation hear from this Prime Minister and his Government?
You can dip into your own superannuation and fund your own escape! These are people who barely have any savings! So, you know, am I angry about that? Are women across Australia angry about that? Of course we are.
The question as to whether or not Christian Porter remains a fit and proper person is a question for the Prime Minister. The question of whether or not Linda Reynolds, who called an alleged rape victim a “lying cow” remains a fit and proper person, is one that sits with the Prime Minister.
SPEERS: Let me turn to some issues in your portfolio, just briefly, businesses, some of them are reporting skills shortages, particularly farmers and those in construction as well. This week, there was a parliamentary committee report where Government MPs argued we should be making some changes to make it easier to bring in foreign workers when it's possible to do so. The first recommendation was watering down labour market testing for some businesses, and they also want places reserved on flights and in quarantine for these foreign workers. Do you think we do need to bring in more skilled workers at all?
KENEALLY: David, this report would only make sense if it had been delivered on April 1. This is a report by a Liberal dominated committee and in the context where we have 2 million Australians who are either unemployed or underemployed, we have 1.3 million Australians still on JobSeeker and that is double the number than before the pandemic. We have JobKeeper about to be cut off leaving about a million Australians behind. We've seen cuts to apprenticeships and traineeships and TAFE from this Liberal Government. And what are these Liberal members of this committee want to do? They want to make it easier to bring in foreign workers to work as carpenters and electricians and hairdressers and motor mechanics and cooks and chefs.
Now it is almost laughable the extent to which the Liberal DNA comes to the fore. Their response is to go to foreign workers and to leave Australian workers behind.
SPEERS: Do you accept there are some skill shortages at the moment. What do you say to the farmers and others who just cannot get Australians to do this work?
KENEALLY: Well, first of all, horticulture is a different proposition. And it is a different proposition because we have known for years that there are shady labour hire outfits that are relying on backpackers and airplane arrivals to work in its highly exploitative conditions. You know, some making as little as $4 a day, some cases passports taken, sexual exploitation, the Government's known about this for years, they have failed to act. Now with the border shut, this shocking exploitation has been laid bare, that's a different proposition.
The proposition about skill shortages is one that at the beginning of this pandemic, when the borders closed Labor called for the Government to invest in skills and training, recognising there would be some skill shortages. They failed to do it
SPEERS: You also called for once the borders do open a reduction in the number of migrants to Australia?
KENEALLY: No David, what we have said.
SPEERS: I'll quote you. You said 'when we restart our migration programme, do we want migrants to return to Australia in the same numbers? And in the same composition as before the crisis? Our answer should be no.'
KENEALLY: David, this Government has kept permanent migration, but they have let temporary migration soar to historically high levels. And the important part about that quote is the composition. We have a Productivity Commission.
SPEERS: You did refer to numbers as well to be fair.
KENEALLY: Well, to be fair, yes, because this Government has let temporary migration soar to historically high levels. And that has had an effect on the ability, particularly of young Australians, to get into the workforce.
Can I say for those temporary migrants, there are shocking stories of wage theft and exploitation and once wage theft and exploitation takes hold in the business models across Australia - it doesn't limit itself to temporary migrants. And we have seen examples, distressing examples, of big Australian companies who have also themselves practiced wage theft, which by the way, this week, the Government went to water and watered down provisions that would ensure effective action was taken against those employers who conducted wage theft.
SPEERS: Kristina Keneally, we will have to leave it there. But I appreciate you joining us today. Thank you.
KENEALLY: Thank you.