THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
TUESDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2018
SUBJECTS: Sexual harassment; behaviour at university residential colleges; vetting prospective Australian citizens; mental health.
TANYA PLIBERSEK MP, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: There's two issues that I wanted to address today. The first is relating to the disclosure of the complainant in the sexual harassment complaint against the former Deputy Prime Minister; and the second issue I want to talk about are the residential colleges at universities. So you’ve just heard from the National Party that they are confident that the disclosure of the identity of the woman who made a complaint against the former Deputy Prime Minister did not come from the National Party. Andrew Broad said similar things yesterday, that this didn’t come from the National Party, it came from the Liberal Party. The Prime Minister needs to reassure the Parliament today that neither he nor his office nor any Liberal Member of Parliament nor their staff made the identity of the complainant public. This sends the worst possible message to women who've been subjected to sexual harassment. First of all, Barnaby Joyce says look, if there's a problem here the woman should go to the police. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are both very serious, but they’re different. Sexual assault should be immediately reported to the police. Sexual harassment, on the other hand, is often dealt with within organisations through formal procedures that in most cases guarantee that complaints can be made confidentially and the identities of complainants can be kept confidential. In fact, when the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet was asked about this yesterday, they said they would never make the identity of a complainant public without her consent. It is accepted practice that such complaints can be kept confidential, because if you don’t have that degree of confidentiality, victims are much less likely to come forward, other women won't make complaints when they see someone like this complainant, collateral damage in a political fight between the Liberals and Nationals. This has been a sterling example of exactly how not to deal with a sexual harassment complaint within an organisation, and the Prime Minister has to answer for who has leaked this woman's identity to the media. The second - any questions on this issue? The second issue I wanted to mention was again we've seen reports of shocking behaviour at university residential colleges. It is so depressing that when I was at university 30 years ago, these same type of complaints were being made and the universities and the colleges at the time were saying the same things that they're saying now - yes we take this very seriously, yes we'll investigate, culture change is necessary. I don't deny that some good work has gone on in some colleges around Australia, but seriously are we really saying that in 2018, after years and years of reports like this, that the colleges don't have the ability to stop this kind of behaviour? Anybody who saw the terrible sadness of the Kelly family as they were interviewed last night about the loss of their second son in these circumstances would understand how important it is that action occurs immediately. Anybody who has heard the brave stories of people who've spoken up against this bullying culture, the drinking, the sexual harassment, even sexual assault, would know how important it is that the colleges actually take decisive action and stop making excuses for unacceptable behaviour. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: Just back to the sexual harassment allegations. Do you think the woman in this case has been treated very poorly?
PLIBERSEK: I think the woman in this case is collateral damage in a fight between the Nationals and Liberals and that is completely unacceptable. I think it is shocking in the extreme that her identity has been made public without her consent. I think it will discourage other women from making similar complaints, and it is completely, completely unacceptable behaviour.
JOURNALIST: Some people might argue that the National Party is a bit of a boys club anyway. Do you think it will discourage more potential female candidates from running for the party in the future?
PLIBERSEK: I can't really answer for the internal culture of the National Party, but I did think it was pretty unfair that Bridget McKenzie seemed to be the only National that wasn't mentioned as a potential leader, and she seems to me one of the more talented and competent ones in that party room. We continue to see strong representation of women in the Labor Party. We're at almost 50%. That does change the culture within a party.
JOURNALIST: There are some reports around this morning about CFMEU behaviour. Are there aspects of the CFMEU that make it difficult for Labor?
PLIBERSEK: I'm not sure which reports you're referring to.
JOURNALIST: Just there's some comments made at a rally that Mr Shorten spoke at earlier.
PLIBERSEK: Can you tell me which rally you're talking about because there's-
JOURNALIST: There was a rally in Queensland I think, late last year, and apparently some comments were made-
PLIBERSEK: Are you talking about the lock out of the Oaky North miners?
JOURNALIST: Yes. That's correct. Yes.
PLIBERSEK: Well if you're talking about the lock out of the Oaky North miners, here's a bunch of miners that live in a rural community - the rural community depends on the wages that they're spending in the shops and in the businesses in that town. They've been locked out by an employer that refuses to negotiate on their wages, an employer incidentally that hasn't paid any recent tax in Australia. We are worried that the balance of negotiation between employees and employers has tipped too far so that employers are able to refuse to negotiate, to lock out workers. That's a real problem. That is something that we need to look at in our industrial relations system.
JOURNALIST: In terms of the behaviour of the CFMEU, are you supportive of the way that they operate?
PLIBERSEK: I can't answer a general question like that. If you've got a particular complaint to make you should make a particular complaint and I'll give you an answer on that. Any other questions?
JOURNALIST: On the issue of hazing, do you think there's an argument for some legislation to outlaw this kind of behaviour?
PLIBERSEK: Sexual assault is already illegal, and what's going on in these universities, I think some of the reports suggest is nothing short of assault, physical assault and sexual assault. But I think universities in the first instance should be making sure that they investigate and apply existing laws to the behaviour where that's appropriate and applicable. If there are other behaviours that fall short of criminal behaviour but are still deeply concerning, then I think university colleges need to reform their culture and make it clear that people who don't conform to the basic expectations that you'd expect of any human being in the way they treat any other human being, aren't welcome in these colleges. They actually need to have a one strike policy for the appalling sorts of behaviour that's been described in this report.
JOURNALIST: There are reports today that the Home Affairs Department is looking to get spies to vet Australian citizens before they reach our shores. Do you see merit in such a proposal?
PLIBERSEK: Another day another thought bubble from the Government. It is not clear from the reports exactly what they're proposing. Of course we'll look at whatever the Government suggests. If it does keep Australians safer then of course we'll work with the Government to do that. But it seems to me like a pretty poorly thought-out thought bubble today. I can't really comment more than that.
JOURNALIST: You talk about universities and stuff, I don't know if you've seen this report from ARACY. It looks at mental health and suicide rates among youth. Just wondering if you might have any thoughts on how to tackle mental issues, suicide rates rising amongst youth?
PLIBERSEK: It's a very complex question. We do absolutely need to ensure the good mental health, not just of young people but throughout our community, men and women of all ages. I think some of the most important work we can do is making sure that we learn to have conversations with people that we fear are at risk of suicide. The RUOK campaign does a terrific job at helping people learn how to have those conversations. Our mental health services, particularly at the acute end, need to be much better than they are. That's a big and ongoing challenge for us as an Australian community. Thanks.