SUBJECTS:  University colleges; Senator Cash; Tony Abbott.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Later today I will be speaking to the Universities Australia conference about the issue of sexual assault on campus and university hazing rituals during orientation week. I was at uni about 30 years ago and it really does depress me a bit, that 30 years ago there were all these stories about the behaviour at university colleges and particularly about the treatment of women, young students - and 30 years down the track we've had a number of reports, some colleges have made some progress, some universities have made some progress, but not nearly enough. I really do think that the time for talk on this issue is over. University colleges have to lift their game. The ideal thing would be if they themselves got the culture right, they provided a safe environment for all of the students who are living at those colleges. But if the colleges don't act it is important for the universities to take action. These students are residents of colleges but they are students at the university. The university does have a duty of care to these students. And thirdly if the colleges and the universities are unable to act, then I think there is a role for government in this. Of course, the colleges for the most part are governed under state laws rather than federal laws but there is definitely a role for federal government leadership here and at this stage I'm not ruling anything out. We can look at national regulation, we can look at other sorts of financial penalties, I'm not ruling anything out at this stage because this issue is too important to have another 30 years of talk. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: What about these colleges who have been reluctant take a stand on that sort of behaviour?

PLIBERSEK: It actually beggars belief, to be honest. I do not understand why generations of former residents, alumni of these colleges, continue to defend a culture that leads to harmful drinking, dangerous behaviour, and in my view most seriously, a culture that supports and enables sexual assault. It is beyond me why anyone would defend this culture.

JOURNALIST: What about the treatment of women in this House. As a woman what did you think of Senator Cash's comments yesterday?

PLIBERSEK: I thought Senator Cash's comments yesterday were highly inappropriate and she should walk down to Bill Shorten's office and apologise to the women that she has maligned. I think it's hard enough working in an environment that is pretty male dominated. I mean we're a bit better off in the Labor Party because almost half of our MPs are women. We have taken very deliberate steps over many years to improve the gender balance in our party, but nevertheless Parliament House is a pretty blokey environment. She's just made life a whole lot harder for a bunch of young women who are smart, they're dedicated to their jobs, they work really hard, they're away from their families. Why would you do that? And this is a Minister who used to be the Minister for Women. She's the Minister for Jobs and she's giving these young women doing their jobs a hard time. I don't understand the behaviour and I think those mealy-mouthed apologies 'if anyone was offended I withdraw' - it's just pathetic. I mean, she should have the decency to realise that she's done the wrong thing, that she shouldn't have said what she said and she should apologise to the young women she's insulted. I feel offended on their behalf.

JOURNALIST: Two Liberal Ministers have defended her this morning and said her withdrawal is enough. Are you surprised?

PLIBERSEK: People will be their own judges of that. If someone hurt you and they said 'oh I'm sorry if you feel hurt', that weasly sort-of half-hearted way, would you think that they were genuine in their apology? No. And 'I'm sorry, I did the wrong thing' it's not hard to get that right. That's what we teach our kids all the time. If you did the wrong thing, face up to it, fess up, apologise.

JOURNALIST: Is there any substance whatsoever to the rumours that she alluded to?

PLIBERSEK: I think that's actually a disgraceful question. We have been so careful in this place not to talk about the personal lives of people, including the former Deputy Prime Minister. We've talked about the use of taxpayer funds. We haven't been out in the front Prime Minister's courtyard moralising about personal conduct of people, and we're not going to start now. The Prime Minister is saying he wants this to be a better work environment for women, and Minister Cash is out doing this sort of thing. She should apologise, we should move on and people should stop asking questions like that. It's really quite insulting.

JOURNALIST: Back on harassment at universities, the Chair of Universities Australia, Margaret Gardner, said she hadn't read the Red Zone report and also Universities Australia haven't met with anyone from End Rape on Campus Australia even before the Change the Course report last year. Would you meet with End Rape on Campus Australia? -

PLIBERSEK: I've met with them. I mean, I met a number of the people involved in writing this report. I very much support the work that they're doing. There is a critical moment - we've got the metoo campaign around the world, there's a light being shone on poor behaviour in a number of industries. There are growing consequences for the perpetrators of violence against women and sexual harassment. The university sector has to accept that they will be held to a higher standard. They can't continue to allow colleges to allow open season on 18 and 19 year old girls.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about these reports relating to Tony Abbott, suggestions that he helped a Chinese property developer donate to the Liberal Party, despite warnings from ASIO about his links to the Communist Party?

PLIBERSEK: It's interesting to see that this information has been leaked at this time. I'd like to know what's going on in the Liberal Party that someone has leaked this information. I don't know the details of it, I've only seen what I read in the papers, so I really do think it's up to the Liberal Party to answer for the issues around the donations but also how this information's become public at the moment. Certainly Labor doesn't take money from these donors anymore. Thank you.