Topic:   Allegations made in the Senate, Katy Gallagher has questions to answer;  

04:14PM AEST
Thursday, 15 June, 2023


Andy Park:  Liberal Senator David Van says he accepts the decision of Peter Dutton to remove him from the party room after independent Senator Lidia Thorpe used parliamentary privilege to accuse him of sexually harassing and assaulting her. Senator Van has denied this allegation. Peter Dutton made the decision to remove Senator Van from the party room after further unspecified allegations were reported to him overnight and this morning regarding his conduct.




Peter Dutton: I’m not making any judgement on the veracity of allegations or any individual’s guilt or innocence.




Andy Park: Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Birmingham. Firstly, do you agree with Peter Dutton’s decision and how he’s handled this?


Simon Birmingham:  Yes, Peter has shown leadership and a determination to ensure that such matters are handled appropriately through services that have been established in recent times, such as the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service, and in doing so he has ensured that anything that has been brought to his attention is either referred to that service or that individuals are encouraged to take their matters to that service.


Andy Park:  What did you make of Senator Thorpe’s allegations? Did you know about them two years ago?


Simon Birmingham: Certainly, I was shocked by the nature of what was said yesterday by Senator Thorpe. And of course, she withdrew those statements and made a longer statement to the Senate today. I was aware a couple of years ago of suggestions of conduct that she felt uncomfortable with. They were raised with me by the then leader of the Greens and related to the extent of time Senator Van had spent around Senator Thorpe, the proximity of his office to her office and in that sense, we had two requests that were made at the time. They were for Senator Van to no longer occupy the office next to Senator Thorpe in Parliament House, and for him to keep some distance from Senator Thorpe. And those requests were acted upon to the satisfaction at the time of the Greens leadership, as I understand it, and of Senator Thorpe at the time. Obviously other matters have resulted in her making the statements she did to the Senate yesterday and today and the actions that have now seen Peter Dutton ask Senator Van or instructed Senator Van that he will no longer sit in the Liberal party room.


Andy Park: Of course, Senator Van has denied the allegations, but confirmed he moved those offices after a complaint was made as you’ve corroborated here by Senator Thorpe in 2021. What happens to Senator Van now? I mean, what does this mean for the Liberal Party and particularly the Senate?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Senator Van will presumably sit as a crossbencher in the Senate. That is up to him, of course, as to what pathway he chooses from here. But he no longer will sit as a member of the Liberal parliamentary party within the Senate.


Andy Park: I assume you support a thorough investigation like the one that Senator Van has called for. What will you be doing to ensure this happens?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Andy, there are processes that people can choose to follow. But as always in these matters, nobody can make people go through with those sorts of processes. I mentioned before that we worked to establish, indeed as finance minister in the previous Parliament I particularly worked to establish the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service, which was recommended by Kate Jenkins’ report. And we have that type of body in place now not just to provide support services, but also to be able to provide independent assistance and investigation when required. And I would urge anybody who has concerns, be they a Senator, staffer or others engaged in the parliamentary workplace, to take those concerns through those proper channels and to ensure that they can be independently investigated through that means which can ensure people’s confidentiality and respect is maintained, which was something that was requested at the time – the matters were raised by the Greens a couple of years ago – and we have maintained that. But I respect as well Senator Thorpe’s right to raise her issues and concerns now.


Andy Park: As you say, this really does reinforce the importance of the Respect at Work recommendations from the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins. Do you wish the Coalition had embraced these more forcefully when you were in government.


Simon Birmingham: Well, we accepted all of those recommendations in government and began the work on implementing those recommendations [of the Set the Standard report] and stood up the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service that we are talking about. We made changes to the legislative structure of the Members of Parliament Staff Act. We actually had many of those recommendations either completed or underway by the time of the election, which was in a fairly short order between receipt of that report and acting upon them. And we did it in a multi-party oversight body with an independent chair that has continued now with new membership but under the current government using that same leadership structure to oversee implementation of those recommendations.


Andy Park: Do you think Parliament House needs more security guards and cameras, as Lidia Thorpe has called for?


Simon Birmingham: Look, I trust that those who have expertise in this space will look at her request and consider it. Personally, this is a very well protected workplace. It has lots of security at various entry points and within the building as well. There are issues in terms of the extent to which CCTV footage is captured and maintained in this building. But as we know from other episodes, it is captured at different key parts of the building. And then there are clear rules around how that is stored without compromising parliamentary privilege and how access to it is monitored and maintained without compromising that. So it will be for the presiding officers to consider the suggestion made by Senator Thorpe in that regard. And I trust they will give it proper consideration, mindful of the extensive resourcing that is already there too.


Andy Park: Its 4:21 on RN Drive. If you’ve just joined me, I’m speaking with Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham about today’s decision by his party to exclude Senator David Vann from the Liberal party room in the Senate. The Coalition continued its scrutiny of Katy Gallagher and Penny Wong for the third day in a row about the sort of prior knowledge of Brittany Higgins and her rape allegations before they were aired in the media. The Greens have accepted Katy Gallagher’s explanation. Do you?


Simon Birmingham: I think it is pretty clear that Katy Gallagher did mislead the Senate, and it’s disappointing that she has chosen a strategy and tactic of evasion on this rather than acknowledging that she misled and simply setting the record straight, which is all that she has been asked to do in this regard. That she said in one breath at one time that she had no information or knowledge whatsoever and yet as it transpired, she did have quite a bit of knowledge and information. Now, that’s a pretty clear case of misleading and it is disappointing that she, the Prime Minister and other members of the Government have not simply acknowledged that and in acknowledging it, then had her apologise and set the record straight.


Andy Park: Do you believe that she saw a transcript or a rough cut of The Project’s interview before it went to air?


Simon Birmingham: Again, it’s disappointing that she is refusing to give straight answers about some of those questions. We have been very clear that we are not seeking in those cases for her to reveal private conversations, but for her to be clear and direct and forthright and honest about whether she received information that was subsequently made publicly available. And obviously, if she received a copy of The Project interview program or transcript in advance, that has subsequently been made available, so there is no privacy to be protected on that matter. And she should be able to give a straight answer, which sadly, she has refused to do so.


Andy Park:  Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham, appreciate your time this afternoon. Thank you.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Andy. My pleasure.