Topics: End of Parliamentary year; Jenkins Review; Alan Tudge; Gender targets; Voting rights;
Laura Jayes: So let’s go live to Adelaide now, the Minister Simon Birmingham, joins us, as he does every week, and there’s been some technical difficulties for us this morning, so we appreciate that, Minister. You must be pretty happy that the last week is behind you. It looked just like crisis management, a good argument for going to an early election, so you don’t have to do that again next year?
Simon Birmingham: Well Laura, the election will be next year. You know that it’s what the Prime Minister’s been saying for a long time, and it’s always when the election has been due, whether it’s in March or April or May, you know, we’ll see as we come into next year. Obviously, what’s important to us, though, is not what’s happening on a particular issue around Canberra at a given point in time. What’s important to us as a government is what’s happening in Australia at every moment in time and the job security of Australians, which is stronger under our government, the income and particularly the spending capacity of Australians, which is stronger thanks to the tax cuts we’ve delivered as a government. The situation in relation to COVID, which in Australia remains world leading a country where we’ve got the some of the lowest fatality rates in the world. Some of the highest vaccination rates in the world. And of course, some of the strongest economic outcomes in the world,
Laura Jayes: I should have said before. So you don’t have to go back to Parliament, but we get the drift there. Minister, let’s talk about the Jenkins review. Will you implement all 28 recommendations within the two year time frame that’s also recommended?
Simon Birmingham: So, Laura, the Prime Minister’s been very clear in his instructions to me that he wants me along with Ben Morton, the Special Minister of State, together working with Marise Payne as the Minister for Women to make sure we take action across all the recommendations. To sit down with the Labor Party, with the Greens, with other independents and crossbenchers to maintain the type of political unity around the Jenkins review and to get action undertaken. Building on the things we’ve already done. And thankfully, the report, an excellent report that Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has done and also a critically important one in terms of the issues it addresses. It builds upon some of the things we’ve done during the course of this year. We put in place new trauma informed counselling services, we put in place new training arrangements for MPs and staff. We put in place new complaints handling processes across the parliament to be independent of the executive arm of government and my department and that have more transparency and accountability. Kate Jenkins’ recommendations build on many of those things and we’re very committed to doing so.
Laura Jayes: Do you think all of that will help prevent what Rachelle Miller detailed yesterday?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I hope it will help in all of the different types of circumstances to at least provide the type of independent complaints handling processes that people want. Ultimately, we want to see changes in culture and practise and that is what is so crucially important to achieve better outcomes across the building. Now you can never prevent in terms of human frailty, marriages breaking down, affairs happening. These are things that happen across the country the whole time. And tragically, there are usually, terribly disaffected parties out of those circumstances. But as a workplace and a parliamentary workplace, we should set the highest of standards. I’ve already started the process of consulting with other parties in response to the Jenkins review, and I’m determined that we will have a clear action plan laid out by the end of this year, this month to demonstrate how we’re going to get on taking action in relation to those recommendations to achieve the type of cultural change to as Kate Jenkins’ report is titled Set the Standard for the Nation as a positive exemplar for how to minimise instances of bullying or sexual harassment or assault.
Laura Jayes: Yeah, you said disaffected parties. Are you suggesting that Rachelle Miller is just, you know, disaffected after a relationship that went sour? Or is there more to it?
Simon Birmingham: No, I was I taking that to a general comment. I don’t really want to get into the details of this. We have put in place an independent process, Dr Vivienne Thom, former inspector general of intelligence and security, will investigate these matters. She did so with great effect and I think credibility in relation to working with the High Court in matters they had a number of years ago. And so we’ve taken the issue seriously. But your question was, you know, can all of the things in the Jenkins review stop or eliminate things like this in the future? Well, I think we have to be honest about human frailties and the fact that even the best systems will still see problems occur from time to time. What I want is to make sure we have the best possible system that minimises the incidence of that as much as possible and achieves the best possible culture and practise in the parliament as we can have.
Laura Jayes: No, I don’t think anyone expects it to be perfect. But what is alleged by Ms. Miller and denied strenuously by Alan Tudge is a form of domestic abuse. What she’s described is coercive control, and this is exactly the behaviour that your government has spoken about and been so determined to stamp out this year. Now it’s right on your doorstep, indeed in your house.
Simon Birmingham: And the allegations themselves, if they were to be upheld, obviously, it’s completely unacceptable and the Prime Minister has taken it seriously, which is why he has had the minister stand aside and asked his department to find somebody of the calibre and repute of Dr. Thom to be able to undertake this work and to review it properly. So we absolutely understand the seriousness of the allegations that are there. Of course, the minister denies those allegations, and so Mr Tudge has every right to have his side of the story heard by Dr. Thom as well.
Laura Jayes: Yesterday, Holly Hughes said there’s tendency that liberal women aren’t believed. This is in relation to the Lidia Thorpe slurs in the chamber. Do you think there’s an element of truth to that?
Simon Birmingham: Oh, look, I think unfortunately, in a whole range of different ways, you can see double standards that sometimes seem to apply and it should never be the case. The clear message it’s what I said to the Coalition staff meeting this week, but I also repeated it to the Senate last night. Everyone in parliament, be they a member of Parliament, a staffer, parliamentary staff, those who work in building maintenance, the whole shebang. Everyone should both show respect and expect respect. It’s really not that complex a matter. You know, that’s the way we should all actually engage with one another. And whether that is in terms of how you conduct yourself, what you say, the way you say it, you know, it’s a parliamentary democracy. There are strident differences of opinions that that exist. We should have robust debates, but there should be limits to all of that as well. And people should certainly make sure in their conduct that respect is just at the core of it.
Laura Jayes: Indeed, perhaps at the core of it as well is the representation of females in your side, on your side of politics. Now, New South Wales has quietly set a target for 50 per cent female candidates. I think SA has done the same, but been even more bolshy about it. The important thing is getting women in safe seats, right?
Simon Birmingham: I mean it is important to make sure that that preselections achieve that change right across the board, not just in, you know, marginal seats or Lalor held seats or the like. Now you tend, of course, to see a greater frequency of turnover in marginal seats, so you can if you’re getting higher rates of preselection in terms of more women, you’re going to see that occur where you’ve got retirements or turnovers happening more frequently. Yes, in South Australia, I think that at the state level, we’ve seen an incredible sort of turnaround in preselections through this year. Steven Marshall’s got some incredibly strong women coming in to a number of safe seats. And in SA, the Liberal Party, I think, preselected a Legislative Council ticket that further for the five or six winnable spots, has four or five women in those five or six winnable spots. So a complete turnaround in terms of balance there. Pleasingly, here in SA we’ve also got a strong indigenous woman who we hope to have as a new entrant to the Senate at the next election. You know, elsewhere around the country, I hope to see more women like Kristy McSweeney, who’s been preselected to replace Steve Irons over in the seat of Swan in WA, that we’ve held for many years.
Laura Jayes: Yes, indeed. But I mean, when you look at the chaos of the last week, you had so many members on your own side, indeed, even a South Australian Senator willing to cross the floor and vote against the government.
Simon Birmingham: Uh, well, in that case, it was more the two senators who chose to simply abstain from all votes and all legislation. Now Laura, I will always defend the right of liberals and nationals to cross the floor. It’s one of the things that fundamentally makes us different to the Labor Party. If you cross the floor in the Labor Party, you get expelled. That in itself is a rather significant threat that hangs over the head of every Labor MP and senator. Libs and Nats are free to cross the floor. They ought to take it seriously. They ought to do it sparingly and where their convictions or their electorates really only demand it. But this sort of blanket idea that you’re just not going to turn up for any votes that’s not really holding out on the individual principles of different bills. It’s conflating everything that’s on the legislative agenda and with whatever issue you’re demanding action be taken on. The Prime Minister and the government have been very clear. They’re not going to be dictated to in terms of changing positions around vaccinations or the like. We’ve held our position and the actions of those two senators achieved nothing during this fortnight other than to frustrate reforms in things like voting integrity, voter ID, litigation funding reform and that was disappointing.
Laura Jayes: Okay. A message there to the rebels. Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Laura. My pleasure.