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23 March 2021




SUBJECTS: Coalition Staffers’ Misconduct; Gaetjens Inquiry

FRAN KELLY, HOST: Kristina Keneally is the Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Government Accountability, she now joins us in our Parliament House studios. Senator Keneally, welcome back to Breakfast. 


KELLY: Coalition staffers, and I say that pointedly even though Darren Chester was upset that I did that earlier, because at the moment these allegations are of Coalition staffers, filming sex acts in Parliament House, sharing videos with each other, a lewd act performed on the desk of a female MP. How are we at this point in Australia where such behaviour is going on in the nation's Parliament? 

KENEALLY: Fran, I am appalled, disgusted and revolted like most of Australia this morning, but I want to make two clear points right up front. 

One, while I acknowledge the Prime Minister has condemned these lewd acts, he has said nothing about the way in which this type of behaviour contributes to the degradation and disrespect of women in Australia's Parliament and indeed, across the country. And Fran, I just want to make the point - it's not just the female MP’s desk, that has been used as a prop in an obscene video by these Government staffers. It is also the cleaners that I think about. Let's acknowledge that the bulk of cleaners in this building are women. They're good down to earth women, I speak to them every morning. I shudder to think what they confront, if this is what Government staffers are getting up to behind closed doors.

But the second point I want to make here is that while these images and these stories are absolutely revolting, I think there is an even more serious issue here the Government must address. And that is the allegation made on 10 News last night by the whistle-blower that prostitutes are being brought into the building to service MPs. Now, quite frankly Fran, this raises a raft of serious questions about taxpayer money, taxpayer funded staffers being used to procure prostitutes and to be smuggled into the Parliament building. Are we exposing MPs to blackmail and other security concerns? 

I cannot believe the Prime Minister has not addressed this yet. This is serious criminal activity that has serious moral and security implications. 

KELLY: I'm not sure that it's criminal activity to procure a sex worker, but it's certainly morally bankrupt as that whistle blower on 10 last night..

KENEALLY: Well, Fran it's a question that needs to be addressed, as to whether any criminal activity has occurred. 

KELLY: I understand that. But I think for most people, it is mind blowing that in any workplace sex workers are brought into the workplace, let alone in our Parliament House by our elected officials. Have you ever heard a whisper of this in your time there? 

KENEALLY: God. No, Fran. I have not. And I was appalled. I actually found it unbelievable the story and I would have found it even harder to believe had there not been the video and the photos. No.

And this is why the Prime Minister and his Government have to take this seriously and address it. We cannot have a circumstance where taxpayer funded staffers are procuring prostitutes, for our MPs and smuggling them into the building, and the Prime Minister just acts as if that can remain unaddressed.

KELLY: So what should the Government be doing? We spoke with Simon Birmingham, I mean, we heard Karen Andrews there, she was absolutely furious, as she says she's had a gut-full of all of this. But we heard Simon Birmingham, who's the Minister for Finance, who employ staffers, for instance, saying that, you know, it needs to be anyone who's found to have this behaviour will be sacked. He also said there needs to be more cultural awareness training for staff around these issues. I mean, what did you think of that response? And what should the Government be doing?

KENEALLY: Fran, not to be too explicit here, but honestly, how do you train someone not to masturbate on a female MP's desk? How do you train someone not to rape? How do you train someone not to procure a prostitute for their MP (boss)?

I mean, come on here. This is not something that can be solved by an online cultural training module. Cultural change is needed. And that 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 her alleged rape in this Parliament building, women across Australia have been coming forward and saying 'enough is enough'. We demand justice. They have been looking to the Prime Minister for that leadership and it has sadly been found wanting.

KELLY: Alright what should happen, though, I mean, cultural change is needed and it is needed across both parties. I think that's fair to say to some degree. The latest revelations involve at least four Coalition staffers and as have the major allegations that we've heard over the last few weeks, but we've also had some allegations revealed on a Facebook page of you know, bad behaviour, terrible behaviour, actually from some allegedly, by some Labor MPs. So neither side of politics is immune from some elements of this behaviour. What needs to change? Is it good enough to leave it to the, to the Kate Jenkins inquiry? Is that where it should be left now, or should it be something more proactive be occurring right now? Should the Prime Minister and perhaps Anthony Albanese be leading that?

KENEALLY: Fran, I said yesterday on the Insiders programme, that this is a societal problem and I'm not so naive to think that any part of society is going to be immune to it, including the Australian Labor Party. But I do acknowledge the significant work that's been undertaken in recent months by Sharon Claydon, Tanya Plibersek, Don Farrell and others internally to ensure we have robust policies and procedures and a complaint process that provides dignity, respect and confidentiality, where it's required. 

When it comes to what should happen here in Parliament. As I just said, the Prime Minister needs to today instigate an inquiry and refer it, quite possibly, these matters to the Australian Federal Police on the reports that prostitutes are being procured here, for MPs in Parliament. There's no delay on this. Come on. 

Secondly, in terms of the cultural change that is needed, yes, Kate Jenkins should be able to do her job and do it with the confidence and with staffers to have the confidence to contribute to that confidentially so that their voices are heard. That being said, Fran, as I said yesterday on insiders, this is a moment that requires leadership and you can look to what John Howard did after the Port Arthur massacre, you can look to what Paul Keating did after the Mabo decision in Native Title, where they seized a moment. They recognised the country was galvanised. They listened, they reflected and they spoke from their convictions. And, that is what has been missing from the Prime Minister and the Minister for Women.

KELLY: Well, the Prime Minister's response to that is that he seized the moment and set up the Kate Jenkins inquiry. Also set up a hotline, a confidential hotline for staff within Parliament House to respond to..

KENEALLY: This is an issue that is broader than Parliament House and that is what the Prime Minister is failing to recognise. 110,000 women do not get up out of their chairs and out of their homes and come out into the streets and rally and rage, if there is not something significant happening in our community. Where is the Prime Minister responding to that? Where is the Minister for women responding to that? Why couldn't he just cross the street and meet these protesters here in Parliament? 

KELLY: Have you spoken to your female colleagues in the Coalition, in the Government about all this?

KENEALLY: Fran I said yesterday, on Insiders, I'm not going to canvass conversations I've had across political aisles or indeed at different levels of government without the consent of the women I've spoken to. 

KELLY: Brittany Higgins rape allegation was revealed yesterday in Senate Estimates, that you're a part of Estimates questioning, that the head of the Prime Minister's Department, Phil Gaetjens, suspended or paused his inquiry into who knew what in the Prime Minister's Office on the 9th of March and he told the Prime Minister at that time he did that because the Commissioner of the AFP suggested it might be good idea while it got on with their investigation. Now, the Prime Minister didn't say that when he was asked about the status of the inquiry in Question Time last week. Labor's accusing him of misleading Parliament which is very serious charge. Is that really the burrow to chase down here, the Prime Minister misleading the Parliament, or to get to the bottom of why we can't find out who knew what and who failed to act on the allegations against Brittany Higgins? 

KENEALLY: Fran, these two things go hand in hand. They're not separate matters. I mean, if it walks like a duck and looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. And this looks like a cover up. Let's understand that at the same time to Phil Gaetjens was giving evidence that he had stopped his inquiry into who knew what in the Prime Minister's Office, saying it was on the advice of the AFP, I was questioning the AFP Commissioner and I said to him directly, 'did you ask the Secretary, Phil Gaetjens, to alter, pause or stall his investigation and the AFP Commissioner said 'no'. It was an unambiguous statement.

KELLY: He issued a statement (yesterday) suggesting..

KENEALLY: Yes, didn't he Fran..

KELLY: …in the interest of the investigation that it was paused.

KENEALLY: Well he backed in the contradictory testimony given by the Secretary of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Secretary Prime Minister and Cabinet is the PM's personal fixer. He is his former Chief of Staff, he is paid nearly a million dollars a year, Phil Gaetjens, and this is how he is using his position to fix up, cover up and hide problems in the Prime Minister's Office.

I think we need to get, and as Four Corners exposed last night, these serious questions about who knew what when about Brittany Higgins alleged rape. And for the Prime Minister to stand in the Parliament and to say that we could ask questions to Phil Gaetjens and that's where we would get answers on  how this inquiry is going and he didn't know anything about it. He literally said, the Prime Minister, 'I don't have an update. He (Phil Gaetjens)  had an update on that yesterday and (Phil Gaetjens) said he had told the Prime Minister that this investigation was being paused. Why the Prime Minister couldn't be clear with the Parliament about that is a question only Scott Morrison can answer.

KELLY: And just on Four Corners last night, they did a terrific job at working out who knew what when, we spoke with a security guard who was on duty that night. She's a woman. Her name is Nikola Anderson. She described how she went to check up on the office and what was happening. She found Brittany Higgins in a pretty exposed situation. But she said it was only a week ago. She had been asked for her version of events. She was the security guard on the spot at the time. Did that surprise you?

KENEALLY: That flabbergasted me. You know, I would have thought when the Prime Minister's has stood up in front of the nation and said that the other staffer  involved in this alleged rape of Brittany Higgins had been sacked for a quote, "security breach", that we would have a clear understanding somewhere in Government of what that security breach is. I don't even understand how the Parliament can claim there has been a security breach when the very security officer who knows what has happened here, who was involved in this issue, who found Ms. Higgins in the Minister's office, if she has not even been interviewed. How can the Prime Minister make that claim that a security breach occurred?

KELLY: Kristina Keneally thanks for joining us. 

KENEALLY: Thank you.