Topic(s): Jenkins Report; Grace Tame & Brittany Higgins National Press Club speech;
David Marchese: Now with me is now is someone who was at the National Press Club today, Senator Simon Birmingham is the Finance Minister and his departments responsible for people working in parliament. Minister, welcome back to Hack.
Simon Birmingham: Hello, Dave, it’s great to be with you again.
David Marchese: As a government minister, what did it feel like to be in the room today at the press club?
Simon Birmingham: David was quite a powerful experience. I have described the events of the last year as really being a learning journey on so many of these issues. Life itself is a learning journey. But over the last year, really listening to, understanding the views expressed by people like Brittany Higgins and other survivors of abuse and harassment, by listening to Grace Tame as Australian of the Year, by working very closely from my position with Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, that it really has been a process of coming to understand the issues that have been overlooked and swept under the carpet for too long and the need for real action in so many areas. And the calls today that were made were powerful calls and powerful remarks and a reminder of the importance of maintaining the momentum of some of the actions that have been undertaken recently.
David Marchese: In her speech today, Brittany Higgins says she’s not interested in words anymore. She wants to see action from governments, and it’s been two months since Kate Jenkins report into workplace culture at Parliament was released. Why have only a couple of the 28 recommendations been implemented?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Dave, a couple of things there. Firstly, we acted even before we got Kate Jenkins’ report, we put in place trauma informed counselling services across the parliament to ensure that there was 24-7 access for staff. We put in place a new independent complaints process to make sure that there was an opportunity for people to raise issues of serious bullying, harassment or indeed have the support to deal with sexual assault type issues as they should. We’ve put in place training programs for all members of Parliament and their staff to ensure proper workplace practises. And yes, we received Kate Jenkins report in the final sitting week of 2021. Its first recommendation was that we should have the acknowledgement by the Parliament and so on the very first parliamentary sitting day of 2022. We made sure that acknowledgement happened, that there was a sincere apology as part of that acknowledgement, as well as the call to action. We have today introduced the first package of legislation in response to that, which responds to a number of recommendations. We’ve established the cross-party leadership taskforce that Commissioner Jenkins recommended, and we’re working very much to the timeline that Commissioner Jenkins outlined in terms of the actions that need to be taken and making sure that we get on with those
David Marchese: Grace Tame, Minister, said in her speech today that she got a threatening phone call by a senior member of the government funded organisation, asking for her to promise not to say anything damning about the Prime Minister because of the upcoming election. Does that surprise you?
Simon Birmingham: It does and I want to be very clear that my team should always be free to speak her mind that Grace Tame has spoken with passion as Australian of the Year-
David Marchese: So is there going to be, is there going to be some kind of investigation to see if this has happened?
Simon Birmingham: Well, as those who were at the press club or watching would know, Grace Tame declined to name the individual or where they came from. The first the Prime Minister or his office became aware of this suggestion was during her remarks today. If we are able through enquiries to be able to ascertain where that has happened, then certainly conversations would be had around that. But I do just want to stress the most important thing, which is from my perspective, the Prime Minister’s perspective, the government’s perspective. Grace Tame is a powerful advocate, we may not always agree with everything that she says, but she is completely free to say it with the type of passion and conviction and authority that she brings to that role.
David Marchese: Minister Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese was at the Press Club address today. Why wasn’t the Prime Minister there?
Simon Birmingham: Well, the Prime Minister was at Parliament. Parliament is in session and he is dealing with a great many things. But he had made it very clear beforehand that he would be paying attention to what was being said. And I think for those who tuned in to question time after the speech, they would have seen that he clearly was paying attention to what was being said, as he’s been paying very close attention to making sure we act on the recommendations of Commissioner Jenkins’ report.
David Marchese: Alright, Minister Simon Birmingham, thank you very much for your time.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Dave. My pleasure.