SUBJECTS: Peter Dutton; Sexist bullying in Parliament; Herald Sun cartoon.

FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Opposition Leader, she joins me in our Parliament House studio. Tanya Plibersek, welcome back to Breakfast.


KELLY: Roman Quaedvlieg, the former Border Force Chief, says the Dutton attack was an abuse of privilege. What do you think? Would you be encouraging him to take this matter up with Parliament through the Privileges Committee?

PLIBERSEK: He can write to the Privileges Committee and ask for the ability to respond to what Peter Dutton said but I think what it tells you is that Peter Dutton is certainly feeling the pressure. I mean, it was quite an extraordinary attack, to have a Minister using this kind of language under parliamentary privilege against someone with a long public service career, I think is quite unusual.

KELLY: The Minister told Parliament that Roman Quaedvlieg, this is a quote, is Labor's Godwin Gretch, which is a reference to the former Treasury official who fabricated evidence in the so-called Utegate scandal, I'm sure you remember that.

PLIBERSEK: Boy, do I, Fran.

KELLY: Can you trust everything you are being told or hear from Roman Quaedvlieg, either directly or indirectly? He is a disgruntled sacked former employee.

PLIBERSEK: Okay, well two things. It's interesting that Peter Dutton doesn't miss an opportunity to sink the boot into Malcolm Turnbull, who of course was Godwin Gretch's contact in the Liberal Party. But secondly, it's not for us to judge the correctness of what Roman Quaedvlieg is saying. It's for us to interrogate what he's saying. So he has made some serious allegations through the Senate inquiry process, he is regularly tweeting more information, or making more information available. He is not the only person who has given evidence to the Senate inquiry. We would be irresponsible as an Opposition not to ask the questions that are raised by these propositions.

KELLY: Well the Minister says Roman Quaedvlieg's written evidence to the inquiry though is, quote, entirely false and indeed fabricated. I mean, does Labor have any evidence that what Roman Quaedvlieg is saying is true or that Peter Dutton has actually breached any ministerial guidelines?

PLIBERSEK: It is for us to ask the questions and to interrogate, and that's why we've supported this Senate inquiry. But you asked is there any evidence that what he said is false, I mean, he has claimed that he has no knowledge of the people in the au pair cases. He has himself released an email that starts “Peter, long time between calls”. That does not sound, to most people, like there is no relationship between those people.

KELLY: I will move on from this for a moment -

PLIBERSEK: And sorry Fran, just one other really important thing. That email came through at, what was it, 4:08 one day. The ministerial intervention that was asked for by this person that apparently the Minister didn't know and hadn't seen in two decades, happened on the same day. We've got people who fight for years to have a ministerial intervention in very serious cases. It can take years. Why in this case did it take just a few hours?

KELLY: Yeah but Peter Dutton's response to that is that he is a hard-line minister, he stopped the boats, his mantra is Labor is more intent on stopping au pairs than stopping bikie gangs and people smugglers. I mean, are you vulnerable to the charge of a) being weak on border security but b) perhaps being preoccupied with a second-order issue?

PLIBERSEK: I don't think it's a second-order issue to ask whether Ministers are correctly exercising their authority and this is exactly the reason that we support a National Integrity Commission. This is exactly the sort of area where you would want to look quite deeply at decision-making processes and see if they were influenced by any issue other than a proper consideration of what would benefit the nation.

KELLY: Roman Quaedvlieg, his former chief of staff in Border Force, Paul Iozzi I think, I'm not sure if I'm saying that correctly, is now Bill Shorten's national security advisor apparently, I've read in the papers today and the Minister alluded to this in the Parliament yesterday. Has he been advising Labor on this pursuit of Peter Dutton and the au pairs?

PLIBERSEK: Has who, the person in Bill's office?

KELLY: In Bill Shorten’s office.

PLIBERSEK: Look I can't say what he's been doing, he's a career public servant who's in Bill's office. So much of this information is on the public record Fran, you don't need to have an insiders perspective to take the evidence that's been given in the Senate inquiry and formulate some pretty important questions, from the evidence not just from Mr Quaedvlieg but from a number of public servants who have raised concerns in this area.

KELLY: You're listening to RN Breakfast. It's 18 to 8 , our guest is Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Labor Leader. One issue that has really flared up since the Liberal Party's leadership spill a couple of weeks ago is the treatment of women in the Liberal Party, and more broadly the culture of the Parliament. Scott Morrison has spoken with Senator Lucy Gichuhi who had been threatening to name colleagues she said who had bullied and intimidated her and her colleagues. The PM now says that, quote, she told me very plainly she was not bullied by anybody. Case closed?

PLIBERSEK: What is it, a quarter of women in the Liberal party room have raised issues around -

KELLY: I don't know if it's that many, but it's 5 or 6.

PLIBERSEK: How many women are in the Liberal party room?



KELLY: You're right.

PLIBERSEK: It is a very serious thing when that proportion of women are prepared to risk their own political advancement, risk their reputation, to say we need to do something to change here. And so I'm supportive of them, I think it's brave to do that and I think it's troubling that the Prime Minister is not prepared to take those claims seriously. He said on 7.30 Report the other night -

KELLY: Well he's not saying he's not taking them seriously.

PLIBERSEK: Oh yeah he is. He said the Whip will investigate that and in fact I don't believe we do have a problem with bullying. So he said that the Whip's investigating it but he's already pre-judged that they don't have a problem. If your former Foreign Minister and Deputy Leader, your current Minister for Women, two Senators - can't even remember who the last one was - have all said yes we have a problem with our culture, wouldn't you as leader come out and say I'm sorry I never realised, let me have a closer look at that.

KELLY: Some of these female Liberal MPs have talked about bullying and intimidation from both sides, your own colleague Clare O'Neill says politics is increasingly toxic for who she describes as normal people. Do you accept there's bullying and intimidation that occurs from the Labor Party as well, if not within the Labor Party?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I've been in Parliament now for 20 years and I can say that over my 20 years I've engaged in some pretty extreme conflict with people, it is a very difficult environment at times. But there is a difference, Fran, when we're almost 50 per cent women, the Labor Party is almost 50 per cent women, I think there is a difference in the culture. There's someone to turn to if you feel like you're being -

KELLY: What happens if there is a complaint?

PLIBERSEK:Well quite often people come and see me. If they're in the Senate they might go and see Penny Wong, they'll go see one of our Whips.

KELLY: And then what?

PLIBERSEK: This doesn't actually happen very often, but there have been times when I've stepped in and said I don't think what you said in the Chamber today was appropriate, go and apologise. I don't think that sort of language is fit for this workplace, maybe you should reconsider your language. I mean, if you have an organisation where you've got a critical mass of women and you've got someone to turn to, to complain, I think it makes it a lot easier.

KELLY: What about the case of Senator Lisa Singh, Labor Senator, she's the Labor Senator for Tasmania dumped to the unwinnable fourth spot on the Senate, despite the fact that at the last election she got 20,000 primary votes and someone who is being promoted ahead of her got 1,200 votes. So put that aside, it was a factional deal between the left and the right, a handful of union official deciding who's elected to the Parliament and the vote apparently involving delegates having to show and tell their completed ballots. How is that not intimidating? You shouldn't have to show and tell a secret vote should you?

PLIBERSEK: Lisa is a fantastic contributor to the Labor Party. She has been a great senator, she was a very good minister in the Tasmanian State Government before that and she will go on to have a terrific career, whatever she does. I think Lisa Singh is a terrific person and a terrific politician. But I think about 70 per cent of our delegation from Tasmania are female, so if you're saying that's sexist -

KELLY: Yeah but I'm asking you about having to show and tell to prove. What kind of behaviour is that? It goes to culture.

PLIBERSEK: We are a party of collective decision-making Fran. The internal workings of the Tasmanian preselection processes are for Tasmania to decide, but you've moved from sexist bullying and now you're saying that the Tasmanian delegation, which is about 70 per cent female, is somehow being sexist in dropping a female senator. I don't think that's a fair conclusion to draw.

KELLY: Just briefly and finally, can I get a comment from you on Mark Knight's cartoon depicting Serena Williams throwing, bashing her racket and spitting the dummy? The Herald Sun says her exaggerated features have nothing to do with gender or race. That's not how it's being seen in some parts of the world. What do you think?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's good to be having the debate. I don't always like the cartoons drawn of me but I accept that satire is a really important part of political debate and other debate. I think it is sometimes hard for people in Australia to understand what the racism against the African American community means when they see depictions like this. So if you've been subject to racism you are sensitive to things like this in a way that Australians perhaps aren't and if you look back on things like the Hey Hey it's Saturday sketch that had the blackface, and a lot of Australians thought it's an overreaction it's all in good fun, but if you understand from the perspective of an African American how much skits like that have been used to demean the intelligence of African Americans, you see it in a completely different light. So at the end of the day, healthy debate.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.