TRANSCRIPT - Prime Minister’s inaction on Gender Equality; Jenkins review and behaviour in Parliament.
25 March 2021
SHARON CLAYDON MP
MEMBER FOR NEWCASTLE
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 25 MARCH 2021
SUBJECTS: Prime Minister’s inaction on Gender Equality; Jenkins review and behaviour in Parliament.
SHARON CLAYDON MEMBER FOR NEWCASTLE: I want to just make a few observations about the fortnight that’s been in the Australian Parliament and accountability. I think we’ve seen in this fortnight a Prime Minister that has proven yet again his inability to do something. The slow response when he is dealing with Ministers embroiled in allegations in this Parliament shows again his failure to do something. His failure to attend the marches, his incapacity to act on the recommendations that have been sitting with him and his Government for more than a year now shows that this is a Prime Minister who can’t listen and can’t lead and is found wanting on every occasion when it comes to addressing gross inequalities that continue to exist in Australia. This is a Prime Minister that fails to take responsibility for his actions, for his team, for the behaviours in this building, he struggles with issues of accountability and I’ve got a message for the Prime Minister. You cannot drive cultural change in this building, Parliament House, or indeed in this nation if you are not accountable. You cannot continue to dodge questions that Australian women keep asking. You must examine ways in which you are able to be a leader, we don’t need tears in this nation right now. We need a Prime Minister who we know is going to commit to ensuring that women are safe, whether that is in their workplace, in their home, in their street or in their suburbs. Wherever they might live, however they might dress, wherever they go out, women deserve to be safe in this nation.
I want to hear from the Prime Minister, that he understands that gender inequality is a driving principle of gendered violence in Australia and if he gets that, I want to hear him say and commit that there will be adequate funding, indeed we currently have a woefully inadequate budget around addressing issues of gender violence in Australia. I am sick and tried of front-line organisations who are doing all of the heavy lifting and work in this area having to come here to beg for funding. We’ve got a budget coming up in the next sitting of Parliament. If there is not a massive increase to those front-line services then this Prime Minister will be found wanting again.
I’ve got another tip for the Prime Minister. If you want Australian women to take you seriously, if you want us to believe you are listening, you get that Respect @ Work report off the Attorney General’s desk where it’s been sitting for the last year and you enact all 55 recommendations. No ifs or buts, get onto it - you’ve got to have a sense of urgency about the work you’re doing. We can’t wait for another 12 months. It is unreasonable to expect that the Sex Discrimination Commissioner is going to conduct another inquiry now into the workplace culture in Parliament House and Commonwealth Offices when you haven’t bothered to act on her earlier report. If you want to give confidence to Australian women, you would implement those 55 recommendations and you’d do it now.
You’d also as I said, be funding front line services. Stop this process of women having to beg for support and dollars to keep women and children safe in this nation. You shouldn’t be asking women to dig into their already meagre retirement incomes in order to fund an escape plan from violence. You might actually consider as Prime Minister of Australia using some of those legislative levers that the Commonwealth have. You might consider inserting 10 days paid domestic violence leave into your National Standards of Employment, rather than asking women to dip into an unequal system of superannuation in this country where they already have half the retirement savings of men in Australia. I want to see a Prime Minister that takes a leaf out of a Victorian Government that conducted a royal commission into violence and leads this nation in terms of its responses.
Where is this Government’s gender equality strategy? Where is it? We don’t have one. You don’t see any legislation coming through that seriously addresses gender equality in Australia. A Gender Equality Act, that is my last item on a wish list for the Prime Minister today. The legislation in this place is pretty light on at the moment. You could bring in a Gender Equality Act as a sign of good faith that you are taking the messages from Australian women seriously and that you are finally learning to listen. That is my message to the Prime Minister of Australia on behalf of 51% of this nation’ population.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the PM’s comments yesterday with Ray Hadley where he said that ‘well blokes don’t always get it right but what matters is I’m trying’. Is that good enough?
CLAYDON: Far from good enough. There are no excuses, I think we are all pretty tired of excuses. This Prime Minister, if he doesn’t get it, he needs to surround himself quickly with people that do. He needs to get some seriously good advice about how you listen but more importantly how you follow through with action. As I said, you know I was hopeful for a moment in an earlier press conference where I thought maybe the penny has dropped, maybe the Prime Minister has understood the pain and trauma that exists not just in this building but around Australia, maybe he is learning something. You know, my message has been continuous, this pain and trauma that women are going through of retelling their stories, of coming forward and asking to be heard, it’s got to count for something. This is not just women reliving pain and trauma so that blokes get to understand. We need you to understand, yes. But we sure as hell need you to act, we sure as hell need the Prime Minister to lead.
JOURNALIST: Sharon, there’s been a lot of talk this week about safety of staff. Not only MPs but staff conduct and staff safety in this building. A number of women and men from your party and the Greens were on strike this week in that prayer room. I believe the ACTU is now outlining a list of sort of demands that their CPSU members have asked for in this building. Do you think this is a safe place for staff? For young people, for regular staff.
CLAYDON: This is a workplace for 5,000 people on a sitting day. They are not just members of Parliament, they are members of our staff from all political parties, they are journalists, they are cleaners, they are lobbyists for non-government organisations coming in and trying to get a fair deal. There are thousands of people who work in this building who absolutely deserve to feel safe. The Australian Parliament should be a model employer and it should be a workplace that reflects everything we would want to see in ensuring the safety and respect of all peoples working in this building.
JOURNALIST: There’s been some talk from I guess the Prime Minister and from senior government members this week around workplace training and mandatory sort of modules and that sort of thing. Do you think that is the right way to be going? Would you support that sort of exercise?
CLAYDON: Well if the Prime Minister and others had read the Respect @ Work report 12 months ago, they would have those practices in place. You know, it is absurd that we have a workplace where that doesn’t exist already. As I said, we make laws that impact on everyone in this nation and if we cannot, if the Prime Minister cannot get his own house in order then it is difficult to explain to the Australian people why he has license to continue to make laws for everybody else but fails to do so in the workplace where we all come to make laws for Australians everywhere.
Women are tired of coming forward, tired of retelling their stories. The most respectful thing the Prime Minister could do now since he often frames his argument in terms of respect for women, then I beg of him to show respect in return, and enact the Respect @ Work recommendations to ensure this place actually models the very best of behaviours. Cultural change is what is required right now. This is not a problem just of Parliament House, it is rife across Australia. This Prime Minister has to take a lead on genuine, serious, lasting cultural change. That has to be driven from the top, you can’t relegate it to the marketing department. This is a responsibility that leaders take on and the Prime Minister must lead cultural change in this building and this nation.
JOURNALIST: The PM’s proposing a framework for coalition staff especially. Could you let us know what modules Labor staff are asked by their employers to go through before they get to work at this place?
CLAYDON: I have just finished a large body of work for the Australian Labor party on a National Code of Conduct. Three accompanying policy documents to that code were the policy around prevention and response to sexual harassment, a policy around the response and prevention of bullying and harassment in the workplace and a complaints handling process. This was a body of work that Anthony Albanese commissioned when he was elected, and became leader of the Australian Labor Party. Labor’s National Executive endorsed that in late February. I met again yesterday to address ongoing matters around the implementation of all of those policies because we all know that policy documents are only good once they become part of everyday practice. So, there is a very significant commitment from the Australian Labor party around education and training and the implementation of those now much upgraded and improved policies.
So, there should be, I commend the Liberal Party for stepping up and getting some training in place, but I would say again to the Prime Minister, this is a workplace of 5,000. It is an untenable situation to have the Labor party getting its house in order, the Liberal party maybe catching up and doing some work there, the Greens, the crossbench all taking turns in trying to figure out how they are going to remedy what has been woefully inadequate practices across the board. So that is an untenable situation in my view. Every single person in this building deserves safety and to come into a safe and respectful workplace. The Prime Minister needs to lead the way now in terms of ensuring that there is ongoing education and training which is provided to everybody in this building. It’s not a one-off process, he should not be waiting for Kate Jenkins to bring down a report in November in order to act.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you one more? You speak of getting the house in order and complaint procedures and that sort of thing. There were some serious complaints from Labor women in a Facebook group what feels like forever ago, I think it was just last week. Is that something that is currently being investigated? What are your thoughts on that and response as part of that committee that you chair into that?
CLAYDON: I made a very public response to that with Tanya Plibersek at the time, reaching out to those women and encourage them to absolutely come forward. We do hear you; you are believed, we need you to be able to feel safe and secure in being able to come forward and take full advantages of the processes now in place. Both within the party and the Kate Jenkins review. We fought very hard to ensure that the Jenkins review will afford anybody coming through with complaints full confidentiality and that was a requirement that staff made very clear to me that there was no way that they would be participating in any inquiry unless they were afforded exemptions to the Freedom of Information and afforded the same kind of adequate protections through the Archives Act as to how the information would be used.
Those are matters that I understand the Government are still working on. I think that we have agreement in principle, but are still working along with the crossbench to ensure that in fact happens and that there are no unintended consequences of those changes for complainants coming through. There is no time to lose here.
The Prime Minister in the last fortnight has been shown wanting in terms taking action, he cannot afford to continue down this path. You’re the leader of this nation, you must drive cultural change. Australian women are relying on you now and we don’t have a day to lose, there are too many women subject to unsafe conditions in this country for the Prime Minister to let us down yet again. Thank you.