SUBJECTS: Sexual assault on university campuses; Australia-Indonesia free trade; the Buffett tax; Pauline Hanson’s comments on vaccinations and Vladimir Putin.

ISABELLA BROOK, PRESIDENT OF UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY SRC: Hi, my name is Isabella Brook and I'm the President of the Students’ Representative Council here at Sydney University. It's great to be here today with such incredible women to talk about how we can end sexual assault on campus. This is an issue that women on this campus and across the country have been fighting for for decades and it's really great to have some action and the backing from the politicians here with us today on this student-led campaign. With that, I'm going to pass it over to Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. 

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much. It's terrific to be here with state parliamentary colleagues and representatives of student organisations. I particularly wanted to acknowledge my friend Trish Doyle: Trish and I were women's officers, both of us, more than a quarter of a century ago - I was the women's officer for the University of Technology, while Trish was the women's officer for Macquarie University. And 25 years ago we were talking about the same issues that these young women are fighting for today. It is terrific to see that we've seen some progress but not nearly enough for a quarter of a century of activism. It is unacceptable that so many universities are still not reporting sexual assaults on campuses. It is unacceptable that so many students still don't understand issues of consent. It is unacceptable that despite the very good policies that some universities have, the enaction of those policies is still so haphazard. So, it's wonderful to be here today with Karen Willis from the Rape Crisis and Domestic Violence Service of New South Wales, with my state parliamentary colleagues, and most importantly, with the new generation of young activists who are taking it up to university administrations and saying very clearly - particularly in this week of International Women's Day - that something has to change. 

JENNY AITCHISON, NSW SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE PREVENTION OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT: As everyone has said, it's been really good to see such strong activism from these young women and I acknowledge the presence of my parliamentary colleagues and particularly Jo Haylen, the Member for Summer Hill who has been instrumental in pushing this campaign, and the Shadow Minister for Women, Sophie Cotsis who has been meeting with women's officers as well. This is a vital issue for all women at university. It should be a fantastic time of your life, and to have this experience where women do not feel safe on campus is such an issue. And we're also calling on the State Government to deliver the sexual assault strategy that was promised in October 2015 and that should ensure that rape is treated as rape wherever it happens, whether it's on a university campus, whether it's in a school, in an institution, or on the street, it doesn't matter: women's lives matter, women's health matters, and they should be protected from these kinds of actions. So great to see these young women taking such a powerful statement and being sure that their voices are heard and we can't afford to [inaudible] any longer. Thank you. 

JOURNALIST: We heard Universities Australia last week saying during O-Week that they were going to basically look at the whole issue once the Human Rights Commission report was out. Isn't that the right way to go? To have evidence before action?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it is very important to see the Human Rights Commission work completed. But we already know from the early results from this work, and frankly, from decades of student activism that universities are very different in the way they enact their sexual assault protocols on campus. The level of reporting of sexual assaults on campus differs from institution to institution. The supports available to victims of sexual assault differs from institution to institution. And frankly, institutional culture differs within and between universities. So, I think we can absolutely make a start on making sure that young people who are starting university this year get a very clear message during O-Week and during their whole university attendance that sexual assault is never acceptable and that if it happens to them, they can seek and receive help from the university, as well as going to the police. 

JOURNALIST: Obviously the end-goal is for this to not occur at all. But in the meantime, what sort of services are you calling for to fill the gap for victims?

PLIBERSEK: Well it is very important - I might let Izzy speak about the three main requests that they have of universities in a bit more detail - but it's very important - I'll say this: it doesn't matter where sexual assault happens, it is always a crime. And at the base of it, what the students are asking for is that institutions take sexual assault seriously as a crime - that it's treated as a crime and that services are available to victims. 

BROOK: So, something we need - the first thing is a proper reporting process, and a reporting process that is based on a best practice method and that's constant across all institutions. At the moment all the universities have their own reporting processes, and some of them don't even have reporting processes that are available and widely known across the university, so that's one of the first things. In terms of services, we need specialised sexual assault counsellors on campuses. There's a real lack at the moment in terms of services - when students do experience instances of sexual assault the universities are letting them down in not providing those vital services, like counselling, like the academic provisions they might need to continue their studies that we know survivors of sexual need when they're at university. So in terms of services, that's the main thing that we'd be wanting to see. 

JOURNALIST: How isolating is it for some of these women who experience these crimes? Some people come from regional New South Wales or live on campus might [inaudible] 

BROOK: Yeah, so it's very, very isolating. Experiencing sexual assault in the first place is isolating enough but to then maybe be from a rural background, be from a low-SES background, and not really know where to turn to when these things happen is even more isolating - that you don't know that you can go to the university and report something that you don't know [inaudible] it makes your experience even more isolating when you don't think that the university has your back when you're experiencing these incidences. 

AITCHISON: I might just talk for a minute just about the services. The other issue with the services at the moment is we're seeing what's happening with 1800RESPECT, and the triaging that's happening there, so where rape survivors are having to retell their story, we know that that is an impediment to them going on to report and then in cases prosecute. So that is a real concern that the Federal Government needs to look at. But we also need to look at the availability of sexual assault nurse examiners who take the place - particularly in regional areas - of doctors where those services aren't available. You know, there are places in this state where women are having to travel three hours to Canberra, or even longer to get to Adelaide, before they can get treated or even examined for their rape. So that means that they have no capacity to have a shower, go to the bathroom, eat, drink, do anything - change their clothes, even - before they are seen. So this issue of the lack of services isn't just confined to universities and that's why it's so important that the State Government puts some real resources into providing services for all victims of rape. 

JOURNALIST: And is it hoped then that that increase in services and specification will boost the people actually coming forward, because they know that they'll be backed? 

AITCHISON: Yeah absolutely. Because if you've been through the situation of being raped or sexually assaulted and you've already got the barriers of thinking people may not believe you. But in order to get any evidence that could help you in court, you've got to basically go in the back of a paddy wagon for up to twelve hours. That's just not acceptable. So, we need to make it easier for people to report sexual assault and rape. And we need them to also be able to get linked in quickly for services that are respectful of their situation and comprehensive so they'll stand up in court. That's how we'll get convictions. 

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] females on campus experiencing rape or sexual assault. How did you come to that statistic?

AITCHISON: So that was actually from the National Union of Students - they did a survey which they do every year which looks at women's experiences on university campuses. 

BROOK: So the statistic comes from - NUS does an annual "Let's Talk About it" survey, which surveys women and women identifying students and their experiences on tertiary education campuses. So that number is 72 per cent of the respondents of the survey had experienced, I believe it's some form of sexual assault, like unwanted sexual behaviour, on a university campus. So it's a very broad range of things that can extend as far as rape, to things that extend as far as, like unwanted sexual comments in a tutorial or in a classroom, or on campus. So that's where that data comes from but that survey has some very concise data about what women on campuses are experiencing and I think that's why we need to take action on this now. 

JOURNALIST: So if we could ask on another matter, Ms Plibersek. On the Indonesia-Australia Free Trade deal, would Labor back a deal which gives greater access to Indonesian palm oil products and paper?

PLIBERSEK: Well I'm not going to start talking about individual products. What I would say generally is that the Australian Labor Party supports greater trade with Indonesia. Indonesia will have one of the largest middle classes in the Asian neighbourhood in coming years and it is very important for Australian manufacturers and the agricultural sector in particular to have access to the Indonesian market. We won't pre-judge any agreement before we've actually seen the details of the agreement, and of course it has to be in Australia's interest for us to be inclined to support it. 

JOURNALIST: Do you have any ethical concerns about  [inaudible]?

PLIBERSEK: Well we always look at not just the surface of these trade agreements. Labor has always said, for example, that we don't support investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms that might push up the cost of medicines in Australia, or will undermine our health system. We've said that environmental and labour concerns should be included when it comes to free trade agreements. But we're talking about very early days now, so let's have a look at any agreement before we make any broad statements. 

JOURNALIST: And on the Buffett tax, you've called the Buffett tax a "blunt instrument" for achieving greater equality. Do you or do not support it?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I absolutely think we have to tackle the avoidance of people paying tax. We had a couple of years ago 56 people who earned $1 million a year who paid zero tax - not even the Medicare Levy. We know that a third or a quarter of companies are paying no tax - large companies operating very profitably in Australia are structuring themselves so that they don't pay billions of dollars of tax each year. So of course we have to tackle tax avoidance. Ordinary Australians feel like chumps if they think they're the only ones paying their tax and if you're rich enough you can get a clever lawyer or accountant and get out of paying your tax. That's why we've done things - the Federal Labor Party has said we would change negative gearing and capital gains tax, it's one of the most profitable, most used tax reduction methods of wealthy Australians, negative gearing and capital gains tax. We've said that we would tighten deductions for high income earners when it comes to superannuation. We were very specific about the changes we'd like to see from multinational companies so that they pay their fair share of tax. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that people and companies pay their fair share of tax. Having a discussion about that is vital. Talking about the Buffett rule, I think in itself is a slightly blunt instrument for dealing with this complex area. But making sure that people are paying their fair share, and companies are paying their fair share, that's got to be at the heart of our economic message. 

JOURNALIST: Bill Shorten and Catherine King have already reacted to Pauline Hanson's comments about the Government blackmailing Australians with their No Jab, No Pay policy. How do you feel about what was said?

PLIBERSEK: Well I was the Health Minister who got vaccination rates for five year olds up from, I think it was 83 per cent to 90 per cent, because of the tough measures I put in place and I am proud every single day of the fact that we put in tougher measures to ensure that more children were vaccinated. Vaccinations save lives. I added a number of new vaccines to the immunisation schedule for children, I linked immunisation to payment of Family Tax Benefit end of year supplement. And I also changed the language around vaccination to get rid of this term, "conscientious objector" and instead called people who refused to vaccinate their children "vaccine refusers" because there is nothing conscientious about not vaccinating your children. It's the height of irresponsibility. There are a very few people who cannot tolerate vaccination and for their sake, for the sake of reducing the incidence of high communicable diseases, like chicken pox, like measles, like the HP Virus that causes cervical and other cancers. I mean, the reason that we vaccinate across our community is to reduce the disease burden and to protect people who are highly vulnerable to illnesses, particularly people with compromised immune systems. I think Pauline Hanson should stop reading the nutters on the internet who link vaccination to autism; this is completely disproven - again and again this has been disproven and it just shows how prepared she is to read the ramblings of nutters on the internet that she's prepared to repeat this falsehood. I'd say one more thing about Pauline Hanson: the fact that she has doubled down on her support for Vladimir Putin absolutely stuns me. The fact that any Australian parliamentarian feels that it is okay to back someone who is responsible for the deaths of 38 Australians who died when their plane was shot out of the sky causing the loss of 300 lives - anyone who is prepared to back Vladimir Putin after what he did to those 300 people, including 38 Australians, I think should hang their head in shame. This is a man who kills his political opponents, who doesn't support a free press, who has invaded neighbouring countries, who continues to support highly aggressive movements around the borders of Russia - I mean it is incredible to have an Australian parliamentarian prepared to back him. It stuns me. 

JOURNALIST: On the Putin issue, some interesting views he says on women’s issues?

PLIBERSEK: I mean where do you start with Vladimir Putin, where do you start? Of course there are recent laws that reduce the penalties or criminality around domestic violence. I can't understand that any Australian parliamentarian would find anything favourable to say about Vladimir Putin, and that's just one reason. Domestic violence changes are just one more reason that Pauline Hanson should learn a little bit about his actions before she signs up to being on the cheer squad.