SENATOR KRISTINA KENEALLY
DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS
SHADOW MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY
SENATOR FOR NEW SOUTH WALES
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
WEDNESDAY, 17 FEBRUARY 2021
SUBJECTS: Sexual assault allegations at Parliament House; Federal Court decision on Biloela Family; Jodi McKay and Gladys Berejiklian.
JOURNALIST: Are you aware of any other incidents such as what happened to Brittany Higgins happening within Parliament?
SENATOR KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY: No.
JOURNALIST: In terms of changing the culture within Parliament House to try to ensure that these events don't happen, what do you think needs to change?
KENEALLY: I hope that Prime Minister Scott Morrison was genuine yesterday in Parliament when he said he was willing to take up Anthony Albanese's offer for a bipartisan approach to changing the workplace culture in Parliament.
JOURNALIST: What the Prime Minister announced yesterday is a political fix. And I take nothing away from Celia Hammond but we cannot have a Liberal MP alone, running a process to change the culture in this place.
KENEALLY: We need a robust process. We need an independent person, eminently qualified, that is to be oversighted by a bipartisan group of MPs, and we need to ensure whatever comes out of that delivers a system that gives women, indeed gives all staff in this building, the confidence that if they are the subject of bullying, harassment and, God help us, sexual assault and rape, they are able to bring those complaints forward. That they'll be assessed, they'll be supported and that it will be appropriately investigated.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any idea of who that should be? Should it be someone like Liz Broderick?
KENEALLY: Yeah, look, we have many people in the Australian community who could fill this role, who have the qualifications. Liz Broderick is one such person. You know, that the Prime Minister at this moment where it is become evident that this young woman is distressed, she is in trauma, she has suffered rape. She has suffered, of course, because of the alleged rape that occurred on the Minister's couch in the Minister's office. But she has also suffered now for two years, because she felt pressure from the Government, from the Minister's office and she says from the Prime Minister's office, to choose between her job and between bringing these allegations over to be investigated. She felt like she was a political problem that needed to go away. And indeed, they did send her away to be alone and isolated following that trauma. So that the Prime Minister, when all of this has become evident, and we can get to the point as to whether or not the Prime Minister and his office knew about these allegations of rape in a moment, but at the point at which it becomes evident that the Prime Minister doesn't think to bring in an independent person, that concerns me. But I'm hopeful that he was genuine in what he said in Parliament yesterday in that he would take up Anthony Albanese's offer to work in a bipartisan way.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the revelations this morning that it was Parliament House security guards who unlocked the door to the office that night?
KENEALLY: Well, first, I just observed that when our security guards often go around to offices to make sure that, particularly late at night, that people who are there should be there and there hasn't been some breach of security. But some of the revelations are highly disturbing this morning that Parliament House security, have concerns and, or had concerns, about the way that this has been handled. That they raised concerns about language being softened. That they have raised concerns about how descriptions have been changed. That apparently according to reports this morning, one member of the Parliament security has resigned over his concerns. The culture of cover up here is highly concerning. We have Brittany Higgins' own evidence that she felt like she was a problem to be managed rather than a crime, where she was the victim, and it should be reported. Now we have an ongoing circumstance where both Minister Reynolds and the Prime Minister Scott Morrison have serious questions to answer about contradictions in their timeline, contradictions in their statements to the Parliament. They are continuing to compound Brittany's trauma and grief unless they have clear, transparent and accountable answers. Not just for Brittany, but for every staff member who works in this building and for the Australian people to have confidence, that at the highest level their Government will not tolerate harassment, bullying and sexual assault in our Nation's capital.
JOURNALIST: Senator in today's Australian, the suggestion is that Labor Senators were aware of the allegations that Brittany Higgins bought up. Do you know, were you aware or do you know if any of your colleagues were aware for months that this had occurred?
KENEALLY: I was not aware of, I found out about this highly disturbing incident when it became public through the media. Yesterday, in Parliament Minister Reynolds made reference to a Parliamentary Inquiry. And I only say that to say that she's the one has put it on the record. That there is a Parliamentary Inquiry under way and of course, there would be Labor Senators who are part of that. I'm not privy to that Inquiry. I'm not privy to its submissions. And my understanding is that, as is within the case in any Parliamentary Committee process that the Labor Senators have observed the confidentiality requirements of that Inquiry. But I make the observation that it was Minister Reynolds who put the Inquiry in the public realm yesterday.
JOURNALIST: Miss Higgins put out a statement yesterday, which to paraphrase said that it was wrong, but it's taken her to come out in the media and share her story publicly in order for this type of action to be taken. Would you agree with that sentiment?
KENEALLY: Absolutely. I look at Brittany Higgins and I see a woman who is a victim and a survivor. And like many other women in Australia who are survivors, she now has a courage and a determination to ensure that what happened to her doesn't happen anyone else. But, she is correct. It shouldn't be up to the victim and the survivor to ensure that other women are safe. There should have been a process in place. Her employer, the Minister for Defence, Linda Reynolds, should have ensured that. The Prime Minister's office, who by their own statement was involved back in March should have ensured that. There should be a robust process. The Prime Minister said when he took over from Malcolm Turnbull, he announced in response to allegations of bullying of women in the Liberal Party, that he would ensure that there was a robust process for such complaints to come forward. That was an announcement. But there has been nothing that has happened. And, it shouldn't take Brittany Higgins going on national television to ensure that women are safe in Parliament House.
JOURNALIST: On the Biloela family, what do you think should happen now, given the Federal Court's decision yesterday? Minister Dutton isn't going to change his mind on the situation. Have they exhausted all of their court and legal avenues?
KENEALLY: First of all, Labor acknowledges and welcomes the Federal Court decision which has upheld that the youngest daughter Tharunicaa has not been afforded due process by the Government to have her claim for protection assessed. What happens now is not clear but what could happen, right now, today, is the Minister could use his powers to bring this sorry saga to an end. Not only has the taxpayer spent $50 million - $50 million - to keep this family of four with their two Australian-born children in immigration detention on Christmas Island. But there has been an incalculable cost to their wellbeing, their mental health, for these young children, their development, and a community in Biloela, Queensland that just wants them back. And it's not Labor calling for this alone. This is Alan Jones and Barnaby Joyce, and the Mayor up there in Biloela and the Biloela community, people just want them home. Quite frankly, I say to the Immigration Minister, Alex Hawke, who has this power: come at this with fresh eyes, come at this with the sense of the taxpayer money you're wasting, come at this with a sense of what the Biloela community wants. Understand, there is no need now for a family of four that present no threat to the community to be kept in immigration detention in isolation on Christmas Island, just bring them home. Just bring them home now.
JOURNALIST: On another matter, can I ask about Jodi McKay? So she's been accused of submitting a letter of support for a Tamil refugee who's been convicted of sexual assault. Do you know anything about the situation and do you find it concerning?
KENEALLY: I don't know anything about the particulars of the situation other than what I've seen in the media. But Jodi McKay has been clear: her letter was not one letter of support. And I find it a bit rich that people are calling for Jodi McKay to resign because surely Gladys Berejiklian has so lowered the bar for what passes as ethical behaviour in NSW politics, that anything that we see here in terms of this letter - this representation - pales in significance. We have a Premier of New South Wales, who carried on for years a secret affair with an MP who has admitted to selling visas for cash and running other money making enterprises, who is under investigation by the ICAC for corruption, who had to resign because of that investigation. And, Gladys Berejiklian was carrying on a secret affair with him. That has so lowered the bar for what passes as ethical behaviour in NSW Parliament, and that's a big statement by the way, that has so lowered the bar. That this is mischief-making by I suspect, people in the Liberal Party to try and distract from their own scandals, corruption and their own Premier's illicit affair. Thank you.