Topic(s): Jenkins Report; Religious Discrimination Bill;

Natalie Barr:  Finance Minister Simon Birmingham joins me now. Morning to you.


Simon Birmingham: Morning, Nat.


Natalie Barr: You’ve led the government’s response to the Jenkins review into parliamentary culture. It was a significant step yesterday, but when will we see some practical action?


Simon Birmingham: So indeed, the acknowledgement that was given the apology that was given yesterday was the first recommendation of Kate Jenkins’ report received late last year. Other recommendations we are acting on, too. In fact, there will be legislation introduced to the Parliament today that makes changes in relation to Members of Parliament staff and the application of other workplace safety or anti-discrimination laws as protections for those staff. So we are firmly getting on with implementing and acting on the recommendations across the board, and we’re going to keep pushing through against the timeline, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner recommended.


Natalie Barr: All 28 recommendations will be implemented?


Simon Birmingham: Our intention is to act on all of them. Some of them involve other parties and we’ve put in place a cross-party working group that brings together the Labor Party, the Greens, independent MP with the government, so that we can actually advance these issues together, including important things like codes of conduct for Parliament and we’ll see a new Joint Select Committee of the Parliament put in place over the next couple of days again to try to give effect to that recommendation to do it together as a parliament, recognising that these issues cross party lines and need the unity of everyone working together.


Natalie Barr: Grace Tame tweeted about the PM’s statement, labelling it this – a performative last minute Band-Aid electioneering stunt. I guess for a lot of women who’ve spoken out about this on both sides of the political spectrum. They say you guys are running into an election, you’re about to announce it and now the Prime Minister and the opposition leader stand up.


Simon Birmingham: Look, I don’t think that’s entirely fair. The Sex Discrimination Commission’s report was received in the last parliamentary sitting week of 2021. Yesterday was the first parliamentary sitting day of 2022 and we acted there. The Prime Minister acted on that first recommendation, delivering not just an acknowledgement, but a sincere apology, a call to action and it’s also not the only thing that’s occurred. Last year, we put in place a new independent complaints process for staff to be able to work through. We put in place trauma informed counselling services for individuals and put in place training for all members of Parliament and senators and their staff to undertake. So there’s been real action, there continues to be action and delivering on those recommendations received late last year. And what you saw yesterday was, I think, a very sincere apology and that call for further action and commitment to further action from the PM.


Natalie Barr: Ok, let’s talk about the religious discrimination bill, because for a lot of people, it’s hard to get our head around what has been agreed to. We’ve got Equality Australia opposing this because they say a boss would be able to say this to a colleague. Disability is caused by the devil. Menstruating women are unclean. Homosexuality is a sin. Under this bill, would that be allowed to happen?


Simon Birmingham: No. If that was said by a boss, to an employee in a manner that clearly, the way you’ve just described it would constitute harassment, that if you’re making those sorts of statements, on a repeated basis to an employee harassing them in that sort of way, that would not be acceptable under this bill and it would not be tolerable. What we are seeking to try to achieve here is to ensure that if you are a person of any faith, be that a Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, Christian or indeed a person of no faith, you shouldn’t in the main be discriminated against when you’re going to rent a house, you shouldn’t be discriminated against on the basis of your religion when you are pursuing other aspects of your life. Just the same as we have anti-discrimination laws so that people aren’t discriminated against on the basis of their gender, their sexuality, their age, their discrimination status. Nor should people of different faiths face that sort of discrimination for racial reasons, and we have those protections, all for the basis of their faith. And that’s at the heart of this. Now, of course, there are many technical issues when you’re drawing up these sorts of laws and they’re subject of genuine debate and that’s what I want to see colleagues effectively work through in the parliament.


Natalie Barr: Okay. Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time this morning.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks. My pleasure.