15 February 2021




SUBJECTS: Peter Dutton’s misuse of taxpayer funds; Safer Seats Rorts; assault allegations.

SENATOR KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY: Well, disturbing revelations today that Peter Dutton has spent $36,000 of taxpayer money to make a quick 24 hour trip to Tasmania during the Braddon by-election to announce two grants, two Safer Communities grants, really they are not Safer Communities grants, this is the Safe Seats rorts that Peter Dutton is running.

This Safer Communities grants revealed on the ABC 730 program, where Peter Dutton gave some 90% of the grants to government held in marginal seats. Two of those grants he gave in the Braddon by-election and now been revealed that he spent $36,000 flying a luxury VIP plane down to Braddon to make that announcement, stand next to the Liberal candidate and make that announcement.

I mean, the Liberal Party just keeps treating taxpayer money like it is Liberal Party money. This is a Safer Communities Fund. Now, I don't deny that the communities in Braddon would be really grateful to get this but they weren't recommended for this funding. There are other communities that were ranked higher, that needed the funding.

What kind of government takes money away from communities at risk? And uses it for those seats that they find more electorally important to them? I mean, Peter Dutton wasn't making communities safer with his Safer Communities Funds, he was making marginal seats safer for the political party.

Now how can this government be looking after the needs of ordinary Australians when they are so busy looking after themselves?

Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Want to ask you about this very disturbing case and allegations of an assault in this very building. What what do you see as the issue there? Is this an issue for the government or is it a broader issue [INAUDIBLE]?

KENEALLY: The first thing I want to say is that my thoughts go to the complainant in this case. The young woman who has raised the serious attack. She has shown courage. And, quite sadly, right across Australia, quite unfortunately, there would have been women who would have heard her story to that, and recognised tragically in their own lives that something similar might have occurred to them.

So, that is my first acknowledgement to this particular young woman and to women right across Australia who have been the victim of unwanted sexual assault in life. It's terrible. It's tragic.

When it comes to this circumstance, we need to hear from the Minister Linda Reynolds. This is an assault that occurred in her office. This is an alleged assault that occurred in her office. There are security issues around the Defence Minister's office, there are issues as to whether or not this has been properly referred and investigated, not just by officials in this building, but also by the police. There are questions about whether or not this young woman was pressured to choose between her job and reporting the matter to police.

So I think it's time that we hear today, from the Minister, Linda Reynolds, because all allegations of sexual assault and rape, wherever they are, but particularly when they occur in the workplace, and particularly when they occur in the parliament. I don't care what side of politics you are on. There is no place for that kind of assault in a workplace or in this Parliament.

JOURNALIST: Has the government or Linda Reynolds mishandled this particularly in that story also says that a meeting was conducted where the alleged assault took place as she mishandled this?

KENEALLY: I was sick to my stomach when I read that this young woman was taken into the very office where she was assaulted, to discuss the assault and to discuss whether or not she was going to go to the police.

I think we need to hear from Minister Reynolds and I think we need to hear from the government as to the extent to which this case has been handled appropriately.

Were the complainant's wishes and desires respected? Was she supported to take the complaint forward to police and to the authorities? Was she asked to choose between her job and reporting the assault?

I cannot imagine what it would have been like for her to keep coming to work every day to be taken into that very room where she was assaulted and questioned by her boss about it. Surely we can do better than that?

JOURNALIST: Ms Keneally, does this suggest to you a broader problem about the treatment of women in this place? Have you ever been aware of allegations of women on your side of politics being assaulted since you've been in this place?

KENEALLY: I have not been aware directly of any allegations, no. But what I can say, and I spoke about this on Four Corners, is that when I came to the Parliament several years ago, back then as a member of the press gallery, I was taken aback by the culture here. And it made me wonder what it must be like, for younger women and women who are not in positions of power and influence here in this building. What kind of culture is this?

You know, I think we still have a long way to go to ensure that women feel safe to bring forward allegations and report assault when it happens to them. And you know, I say that with sorrow. But it's hard to avoid that conclusion you look at the story that has broken today.

JOURNALIST: [INAUDIBLE] a party specific thing? This is the third time serious allegations have been levelled against men in the Liberal Party?

KENEALLY: Look, all I can speak to is the Labor Party and I will say that we are in the final stages of putting together a new code of practice to enable to ensure that if there are reports on our side, that people are supported that there is a clear complaints process, that there is a clear process to ensure that those are investigated.

I can't speak to the other side of politics, only they can speak for themselves. And given the disturbing, shocking story that has broken this morning, I think we need to hear from Minister Reynolds today.

JOURNALIST: When did work on Labor's code of practice start? I mean, we sort of first wrote about this in May 2019.

KENEALLY: Yeah, so we have had a code of practice for some time. The updating of that started last year.

JOURNALIST: There was involvement from the Prime Minister's office in handling this. Do you have any questions for that office?

KENEALLY: There are many details here and many more things to come when the interview airs late tonight. But the Prime Minister I would hope will do the right thing and assure the public about the steps that were taken in his government to support an individual, this young woman, and to clarify the role that his office played.

JOURNALIST: Ms Keneally, you mentioned the code of conduct, what is the what's the most integral part of that code of conduct that's not existing in the Labor Party at the moment?

KENEALLY: I'm not sure that I would say that there is something that's not existing. What I would say is that is important is that we ensure that there are clear pathways for people to identify who they should bring a compliant to, to bring it with confidence, and have confidence that it will be investigated.

I think what we saw last year, following the Four Corners revelations about men in the Liberal Party is that internally in this building, it's not always clear that the way that parliamentary services is set up that given the relationship between advisors and Ministers or Shadow Ministers, that there was a clear process for bringing those claims forward, and the confidence that they would be handled by an independent or non-interested manager or supervisor. So it's about ensuring that all of those processes and pathways are identified.

Any other questions? Thank you all.