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23 March 2021




SUBJECTS: Workplace culture in Parliament House; Gaetjens inquiry; Government cover-ups; Government accountability. 

KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY: Last night we saw revolting, disgusting imagery on Ten News about Government male staffers, engaging in lewd solo sex acts, using a female MP’s desk as a prop in their obscene videos. 

I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister condemns these acts. But I would like to make the point, he has not acknowledged that this is the type of degradation and disrespect of women that is present in this Parliament, and across the country. 

These lewd disgusting acts are evidence — further evidence of the culture of disrespect women in this building. And, it is not just the female coalition MP who I'm thinking by here, although my God, I feel for her. I feel for every female coalition MP this morning who must be looking at their desk and wondering, "Is this where this happened? Is this in my office?" 

The culture of disrespect. But it is also a culture of disrespect for any woman who works in this building. Let us acknowledge — and I don't want to be too explicit here — but quite frankly, the bulk of cleaners in this building are women. They are good, down to earth, salt of the earth women, I speak to them every morning when I come in. I shudder to think, the kinds of things they must be confronting, if this is what Government male staffers are getting up to behind closed doors.

And let me make this point. It's good and well for the Prime Minister to condemn these lewd acts and to ensure that one of these — apparently four staffers — has been sacked. But that the Government needs to today — the Prime Minister needs to today, address the serious and shocking allegations that staffers are bringing prostitutes into this building for MPs. 

These are startling, shocking revelations. They go to the very heart of the security of this building, the security of this Government. The Prime Minister must assure himself that he does not have MPs within his caucus, or his cabinet who are at risk of blackmail, because they have procured sex workers to come into Parliament. 

We have to get to the bottom of whether taxpayer funded staffers are being used to broker sexual services and sex workers, for MPs in this building. 

Australians look to this Parliament as a place of decency, as a place of democracy. This is depravity. And the Prime Minister cannot look the other way when there are serious allegations about sex workers, prostitutes, brought into this building by Government staffers for MPs. He cannot brush this under the carpet. Happy to take questions. 

JOURNALIST: So we're obviously have a number of investigations. Are you now suggesting that the Prime Minister now needs to establish another investigation, specifically into these allegations?

KENEALLY: Absolutely. Absolutely. There are questions about whether there's been any criminal activity here. And the Prime Minister should heed the letter from the AFP Commissioner. The letter he requested and make referrals to the AFP. 

The Prime Minister should ask his Secretary, Phil Gaetjens, to undertake an investigation. Though we do know from Estimates yesterday, the extent to which Phil Gaetjens will fix an inquiry for this Prime Minister. 
Nonetheless, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison cannot sweep under the carpet the allegations that staffers in his Government are bringing sex workers into this Parliament for MPs in his Government.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask separately about the Four Corners program last night. What did you make of the Government's explanation about the security breach and the reason why male staffer was terminated? 

KENEALLY: Firstly, I'd like to acknowledge the security guard who spoke out. She did so in order to shed light and to provide information that clearly Brittany Higgins has been denied about what happened to her. 

Now, it's a legitimate question to ask, "What was the security breach?" How could the Prime Minister stand in front of the nation a few weeks ago, and say that one of the staffers in Minister Reynolds's office was sacked for a security breach, when we have heard last night on Four Corners that no one has even asked the very security guard involved in this matter what happened? What was the security breach? What was the security breach? 

JOURNALIST: The Minister's explanation that it was the fact that they were there after hours, that they were intoxicated, that that was the reason why....

KENEALLY: That's different to a security breach. The Minister's... If the Minister's explanation is that they were there after hours and that they were intoxicated, she needs to explain how that is security breach. The Prime Minister using the word security breach carry and convey a significant meaning. That is that some kind of serious security breach occurred. 

But the Minister's explanation seems to suggest that it was a behavioral issue. And what we heard last night on Four Corners is that, it's hard to allege there's a security breach when no one has actually spoken to the security officer involved. And the security officer made the point, in her view, there was no breach. The staffers had the right to be in the building. They were duly signed in there. They were let into the office. So it is up now to the Prime Minister, and Minister Reynolds, or whoever's acting for her this week, to explain what that security breach is.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, on some in Birmingham suggestion this morning on RN that there should be more, perhaps training for staff coming into this building and that sort of thing. What are your thoughts on that? And how do you fix this sort… or how do you train this away?

KENEALLY: I heard Minister Birmingham suggest today that perhaps this could be the behaviour which was aired on Network 10 last night could be addressed with some training. 

How do you train somebody not to masturbate on a female MPs desk? How do you train somebody not to rape? How do you train somebody not to procure sex workers for government MPs. 

This cannot be solved with an online training module. This requires massive, significant cultural change, and cultural change starts at the top. It starts at the top of the Government, it starts at the top of the Parliament. 

And for weeks now since Brittany Higgins’ brave revelations of the alleged rape she - that occurred to her in the Minister's office, on the Minister's couch. Women across Australia have said this isn't just a problem in Parliament. This is a problem across the country. This is a problem in our community, in our society. 

And they have been looking to the Prime Minister for leadership. They have been looking to the Prime Minister for recognition. They have been looking to the Prime Minister for a response. And sadly, the Prime Minister's leadership has been lacking.

JOURNALIST: Given there are so many inquiries into this 2019 case of Brittany Higgins, isn't it odd that no one from the Government has spoken to that security guard who found her? 

KENEALLY: There were so many questions, legitimate questions raised by the Four Corners episode last night. How is it the case that Phil Gaetjens’ inquiry into who knew what when about Brittany Higgins in the Prime Minister's office, hasn't - he hasn't spoken to Brittany Higgins. 

How is it the case that we have these inquiries in Parliament, and no one appears to have yet spoken to the very security officer involved? There will be women across Australia who will recognise in Brittany Higgins their own experiences of harassment, assault and rape, or the experiences of their friends, sisters, mothers, cousins. And they will be saying, here we go again —  another example of a woman not being heard, not being listened to. And these serious concerns being swept under the carpet. 

We cannot have this anymore in Australia. It took the bravery of a young woman to step forward and describe what happened to her. She has galvanised a nation. She has galvanised women across Australia. She deserves to be heard. She deserves to be respected. She deserves to have her complaint taken seriously by this Government.

JOURNALIST: Kristina, we've heard so far the allegations have come out have been mainly against one side of politics.  Do you think this is just confined to one side of politics or is this a genuine issue?

KENEALLY: Yeah, as I said on Insiders this weekend, we are looking here at a societal problem or a cultural problem. This is broader than just the Parliament. There is a reason Brittany Higgins’ story has resonated.  Are there significant problems in Parliament?  Yes, there are and they have to be addressed, but this is a society-wide problem, and I'm not so naive to think that any part of society is immune, and that includes the Australian Labor Party. 

What I do acknowledge is the significant work that has been undertaken in recent months by my colleague, Sharon Clayton, Tanya Plibersek, Don Farrell, and just hundreds of women throughout our party and through across decades who have fought for gender equality — who have seen a Parliamentary Labor Party here that is almost 50% female, a Shadow Cabinet that is 50% female. The fact that you have strong women in our party like Penny Wong, and Tanya Plibersek, and Katy Gallagher and others, goes to the culture that exists in our party that supports and acknowledges women, and when I hear that there are women in our party who are still having the types of experiences that were described recently on an anonymous Facebook page, I am furious. 

And what I say to those women — I see you, I hear you  — we see you, we hear you, and the new complaints process that has been brought in, and the raft of women who are in senior positions in this party are here to support you. 

JOURNALIST: What do you make of Michelle Landry’s comments this morning that she feels bad for the man who's been sacked? 

KENEALLY: She said what? I'm sorry. Can you repeat that? I just want to make sure I've heard you correctly.

JOURNALIST: I think I might have the full quote there.

KENEALLY: Just so I'm clear that the proposition that's being put to me by the media here, and I don't, I don't challenge them on it  — I'm sure they're accurate —  is that Michelle Landry, a member of the Government, has said this morning that she feels bad for the man who has been sacked by the Government? 

JOURNALIST: I have the full quote here.

KENEALLY: If you have the full quote, please.

JOURNALIST: I’ll read out what is – “In saying that, the young fella concerned, you know, he was a really good worker and he loved the place and I feel bad for him, but it's unacceptable behaviour by anyone and should not happen in workplaces like this”.

KENEALLY: She said she feels bad for him because he loved working here? That is what Michelle Landry said?  How about feeling bad for the cleaners who had to come in and clean after that disgusting mess? How about feeling bad for the female MP on whose desk was disrespected? I am, I'm left without words, that this is the response from Michelle Landry.  Honestly, left without words. 

JOURNALIST: Senator, as you've rightly said, women have been campaigning for decades for gender equality.  Do you think this could be the moment for real and lasting change? 

KENEALLY: You know, I look at my nieces, and I think about the world they're going to inherit, and I think about the world that I grew up in, and I hope to God that my teenage nieces are not, in their adult lifetime, still having to fight these fights. Still having to say, you know, sexual assault and rape is not okay.  That sexual harassment is not okay.  You know, that women deserve to be treated as human beings.  That when a woman reports a rape, she's not pressured to choose between her job and justice.  

Every generation, we think we've made these big advances — and we have, and things have gotten better.  But my goodness, it is depressing to contemplate that in Australia in 2021, we are still having these conversations about women's rights to seek justice and keep their jobs when they have been sexually assaulted at work.  So again, I come back to the point that this moment in Australia is seismic.  This is like Port Arthur.  This is like the Mabo decision.  This is like 1967 when the country voted in a referendum to grant citizenship and recognition to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.  Now the issues are different, but the seismic nature of the moment is the same, and leaders don't get to pick their moment.  The moment picks them.  

This moment is picking Marise Payne and Scott Morrison, and to date, their leadership and response has been woeful and lacking.  It has not seen women, it has not recognised women, it has not responded to women.  What I say to the Prime — stop talking, start listening, reflect and speak from your convictions. That is what the country needs right now.

JOURNALIST: The Attorney General's Department is up at Senate Estimates in about 10 minutes. What are the questions you still have of the Attorney General's Department and the Solicitor General about the conflicts of interest that Christian Porter might face when he comes back to work? 

KENEALLY: Yeah, look, Estimates is about to start and you will appreciate I'm not going to run through our Estimates questions here at the moment, but I will say there are questions that remain as to what exactly will Christian Porter be doing when he comes back to work.  What exactly will he be doing?  The proposition being put by Scott Morrison is that it is simply okay for Christian Porter to rock back up at work next week, despite the fact there are serious allegations levelled against him — rape allegations levelled against him — and despite the fact he has launched a defamation suit against the ABC. 

Now, he is perfectly entitled to launch whatever lawsuit he wants, and I acknowledge that he has said that he did not commit the acts that are described in those allegations.  However, there has been no independent inquiry, there has been no test of whether or not he remains the fit and proper person, and now the proposition that is being put is that he can return to his job and a full time salary, with part time duties.  That because of the conflicts of interest with his defamation lawsuit, parts of his portfolio — his Attorney-General responsibilities — are going to be hived off to other people, including Amanda Stoker — Senator Amanda Stoker — and he's going to have the time and the space on his full time salary to pursue his defamation action against the ABC. 

Now, women across Australia would really like to see this Government give them the same rights and consideration when it comes to their escape from domestic violence.  Where’s their paid leave when they have to go to court to escape their abuser?  Christian Porter gets his paid leave from his full-time job.  Why don't the women of Australia escaping domestic violence get the same?  These are judgment questions that sit squarely with the Prime Minister, and when I say the Prime Minister is not listening to women, when I say he's not responding, this is one example.  This is one example where we see, in the policy sense, the Prime Minister's continued refusal to give domestic violence victims paid leave, yet his decision to accord what is essentially paid leave to Christian Porter to pursue his defamation suit speaks to the values of this Prime Minister.  Thank you.