10.14am | March 02, 2021




SUBJECTS:  Sexual Assault Allegations; Workplace culture in Parliament House.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time for my political panel - Liberal MP Katie Allen and Labor senator Jenny McAllister. Welcome to both of you. I want to start with you if I can, in relation to this breaking story, Jenny. The Prime Minister revealed this afternoon that he had previously heard rumours about a Cabinet Minister but didn't initially pursue it or ask questions. He said he didn't do anything on those rumours and then spoke to that Cabinet Minister Wednesday last week. What do you make of the actions that the Prime Minister has taken with this Jenny McAllister?
MCALLISTER:  Look, we have a responsibility to tell women of Australia that we take these allegations very seriously. And not just the ones you refer to just now. But all of the allegations that have recently resurfaced about behaviour in the parliament. These are allegations that have been brought forward for the last two years. What I would like to see is the Prime Minister engage seriously with the content. I don't think it is enough to make referrals to Mr Gaetjens or to Ms Foster in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, or the AFP or to Celia Hammond. I think what Australians want to know is how does the Prime Minister intend to meaningfully engage with the crisis of sexual assault that actually engulfs Australia. We need to have a serious response to it from our political leaders and people are looking for that leadership right now.

KARVELAS: You have gone macro and I understand why you have done that, but I am asking specifically in relation to this historic case. Are you satisfied that the Prime Minister has answered the questions that Labor has been raising?
MCALLISTER:  I don't have the specific detail about this and, in the end, only the Prime Minister can explain his own thinking. And that is in part my concern. His answer today seems to be that he has referred it to the AFP and that is the end of the matter. That is not how the Code of Ministerial Conduct is drafted. It in fact provides broad powers for the Prime Minister to make inquiries, make investigations, to ask Ministers to stand down. If that set of protocols and procedures doesn't apply anymore, I actually think Scott Morrison should explain that to the Australian people. Right now, what it feels like is an attempt to put this to one side because he is not comfortable talking about it. I think we want to know how he is thinking about this problem. In the broad and specifically in this case also.
KARVELAS: Katie Allen, the Prime Minister confirmed that he had heard rumours about this. But didn't investigate those rumours. Was that a mistake?
ALLEN: What I would say that there is a difference between allegations and being referred to the Federal Police and this was referred to the Federal Police. They are the right authorities to investigate this. That is their role. They are the authorities, with skills for this very serious and sensitive issue particularly when it is an historical context. I hear what Jenny is saying about the women of Australia wanting to hear strong leadership from the Prime Minister and I believe things have now changed in that the Prime Minister is on the front foot with regards to referring these issues, both, I think, particularly, individual issues but also cultural issues in our Parliament. Every single workplace in Australia deserves to be safe for everyone. Parliament House is no different. I really do welcome that there are these number of different inquiries that are being precipitated. These are tough issues to deal with, important issues to deal with, and they affect every workplace everywhere.
KARVELAS: With respect, I asked the really specific question, which is the Prime Minister heard about rumours but didn't make any inquiries. Was that a mistake?
ALLEN:  I don't know what rumours he heard and I don't know what inquiries...
KARVELAS: He confirmed he heard about rumours in relation to this alleged historic rape. If I heard about rumours in relation to an alleged historic rape of one of my colleagues, I would be pretty concerned and ask questions. Wouldn't you?
ALLEN: I would say, as a Member of Parliament, and a public figure, there are often allegations made that can be true or not true. I can say is I cannot comment on a particular case that would be unfair and I don't want to make media commentary about a very serious and sensitive issue. I really feel for the family who are having to deal with this. And for any woman who has had a really difficult situation. These are very sensitive issues and to be talking about them as a media commentary when I don't know the specifics of those particular allegations, I haven't seen what those allegations were, but no they were referred to the Federal Police and this is a very, very serious but very, very sensitive issue that is being dealt with by the Federal Police now.
KARVELAS: With respect, and sorry, I will get to you Jenny, but Katie Allen, you say the Australian Federal Police should deal with it. It is not their jurisdiction. The woman who has made these allegations, she’s actually died now. There is no way the police can do anything about this. The police can't do anything.
ALLEN: I understand there is a coronial inquest that is ongoing in South Australia, so there is a lot of matters I don't know the specifics of. What I would say is that we need to make sure that the rule of law pertains to an individual's case and shouldn't be making assumptions. There has to be a presumption of innocence in our rule of law and I would stick with that.
KARVELAS: OK. Jenny McAllister, what do you think? We keep hearing the police are dealing with this, but the police can't do anything, can they?
MCALLISTER:  I think one thing we might do if we listen to victims and survivors is hear their request. What women are often are saying is that a police investigation is not always right for them. If we are serious about responding to sexism, sex discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, we need to contemplate the possibility that a police investigation is not always the pathway complainants are seeking.
KARVELAS: In this case, I want to draw you both back and saying this equally, critiquing both of you. I'm asking about a specific case. This woman who has very tragically died. The police can't do anything. They cannot pursue this. It is not something they can do because she is deceased. That avenue has died with her. What should happen to provide justice or investigate this issue in the absence of that police investigation?
MCALLISTER:  Patricia, I actually don't want to pre-empt the police investigation by conceding the point that you are making. I understand why you are making it. I think we should be cautious about pre-empting that investigation. It is up to the police to decide whether or not there is sufficient evidence to bring forward prosecution.
KARVELAS: But they can’t. What do you know about the law that I don't? What I missing here? My understanding is that because she has died, they can’t.
MCALLISTER:  May I simply say that I think on the specific example, it is being referred to the police and I'm not willing to pre-empt their conclusions and their findings. I don’t think that that is a sensible thing to do at this point in time. I will say this, the Prime minister has the material before him that has been provided, apparently, to him. He confirmed this afternoon that he has been briefed, although, to my great surprise, he hasn't actually read it. He is in a position to evaluate how these circumstances interact with his own standards for his own cabinet. I think he should talk the public through that. I don’t think simply referring to the AFP without explaining why he has ruled out any other process whatsoever, is adequate. I think he needs to contemplate his response and what it tells us about how he is taking these allegations… the seriousness he is taking these allegations and these issues.
KARVELAS: Katie Allen, you have talked again – just like Jenny McAllister did - in the macro, but we have now here an allegation that a serving cabinet minister, one of the men at the most powerful table in our country, has been accused in detail of a violent rape. That is the accusation. How can the prime minister not commit to do something more, to try to demonstrate to the public that he takes these issues incredibly seriously?
ALLEN: I think it is worth noting that this was referred to the police a number of years ago and has been known to the police and I think we should leave it with the police with regards to that particular matter.
KARVELAS: So what happens, given the point I have told you and I have made and I don't labour the point, but I can't help it. The woman has died. So there can be no process.
ALLEN: I think we need to respect the wishes of the family and I think this is a very, very tragic situation where has taken her own life last year. I think we need to respect the wishes of the family in this matter.
KARVELAS: What wishes are you referring to?
ALLEN: My understanding is that they were aware of the matters being investigated and my understanding is that they don't wish for it to be taken any further. I may not be correct.
KARVELAS: Her friends say something very different, the people who supported her for many years.
ALLEN: Well her family is her next of kin. I have to say I understand your anger, Patricia, I really do…
KARVELAS: I'm not a particularly angry person, Katie Allen, but I do...
ALLEN: [Inaudible] …no, no but you’re upset about this and I understand I really do …
KARVELAS …I think the women of Australia want these issues taken seriously from the Prime Minister of our country. I am certain of it. And I think it is incumbent on the Government to demonstrate that if such a serious accusation has been made, that this is being dealt with in its entirety, in a fulsome and robust way. Don't you think, particularly given the moment you say this...
ALLEN: [Speaking over each other] …I absolutely believe that that is to be, we need to have justice served, but justice means a balance between the voice of the person who needs to be able to be heard and she put her allegations to the police a number of years ago but we also need to balance with innocence before proven guilty. This is the justice system. I will say, I have concerns about the culture of justice and that is a separate issue, but, to me, I think that you are clearly right that women want to make sure that justice is heard and I hear that this is a very difficult case because this has been going on for a number of years and I don't know the details of why justice was not served while this woman was alive one way or another. Do not understand why that is the case. Therefore, I cannot comment because I haven't read the details of the case. I hear what you're saying. Women want to be heard and they want their voice to be empowered when things that have not been right have been perpetrated against them. It is also true that we have a rule of law in this country and I do believe in that rule of law. It is not about me having an opinion in the media or the media having opinion. It is up to the police to investigate and make sure justice is served.
KARVELAS: Do you accept that there is a cloud hanging over the government while at minister is currently accused of raping a woman who was 16 at the time.
ALLEN: I will say that allegations are made in all sorts of ways for public figures. And I really think that it is important for people who are taking a public office that the rule of law applies equally to them.
KARVELAS: Jenny McAllister?
MCALLISTER:  Your question really is about how this process goes forward from here. As I have said, I do think the Prime Minister needs to think about his response overall. I accept that it is complex. But his answers at today's press conference didn’t really explain to me how he distinguishes between his role as the head of the cabinet and the investigation of criminal allegations, I think, I understand that they are related. I think that is complex. I think the Prime Minister could do the Australian public the respect of talking through the way he is thinking about this and more broadly how it fits in with his broader program of reform to support Australian women and to stop these things happening in the first place.
KARVELAS: Katie Allen, I spoke to a former Howard government minister – Sharman Stone – who I first met when I was a junior in that house and I was just astonished by the level of sexism I witnessed every day I turned up to work. That is when I first met Doctor Sharman Stone. I spoke to the other and she called out that the culture in your political party, she called it secret men's business, she said the Prime Minister needed to do more on this issue and that there was a culture that it even stopped someone from Julie Bishop from rising. Does that worry you? That that culture exists in your political party?
ALLEN: Look, I haven't experienced that behaviour but I am aware that people say that it exists. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist because I haven't experienced it, but I would say that it is invariably important that women take their placer rightly in the corridors of power and that means standing up and speaking out against cultures, a culture of harassment or bullying that may occur in a place like Parliament House. And I am certainly someone who is very clear about when I call out poor behaviour. Poor behaviour can occur right across the parliament. It is not specific to one party, but it is something that we needs to make sure that women know, when they come to Parliament, that their voice will be heard for what it is and we need to make sure that is a safe place that women can express that. I do understand that the culture at Parliament House has changed quite significantly over the decades and people tell me that the 46th Parliament is different from the 45th Parliament. I don't know. I don't understand why that is the case of a topic could be because there are more Coalition women in the party room. I am hopeful that’s why it is, and I am certainly fighting for more women to be in the Coalition party room because I personally am a great champion for women taking their place very appropriately in the top levels of government.
KARVELAS: So with that in mind, what are your reflections on Nicole Flint deciding to step aside?
ALLEN: I'm deeply disappointed at Nicole has decided to step aside. She has been a great advocate for Boothby. She has told me some of the awful things that happened to her in the 2019 campaign. They are absolutely shocking. I have to say that I was exposed to some of them myself and I won't name who they are because I would prefer to say that it was political gameplaying that happens. But things like I had my own signs with “homophobe” smeared all over it. I was driving my kids to school and one of them said “What’s a homophobe mum? Are you a homophobe?” I'm a great supporter of the LGBT community and I have, I feel like I've been advocating quite strongly for it. So, I was a bit shocked to see that for myself. I had Hitler signs drawn on my posters, I've had some really blacking out of my face, and we had teams of people going around and scrubbing off these things off my posters so I can understand Nicole saying after two terms that she has found that aspect of campaigning very tough. She hasn't given specific reasons for why she has decided to step down, but I do know that she has been a great supporter of women in parliament and it is a blow. It is a blow to me that a woman has decided to step down, a young woman has decided to step down. But we need to make sure we make Parliament less of a contest about people and more a contest of ideas and that is why I'm in there, is to fight for the ideas that I care about, that my community cares about and a better way to serve my country and I would love to be able to go to work and feel proud about my workplace. That is what is so difficult -- devastating for me, it sort of brings us all down when we have these allegations that are in parliament. I find it quite distressing to have to talk about them in many ways because I’d love to go to work to be able to say I am fighting for my community, serving my country, I'm doing it in the best way that I can and when there is behaviour that I needs to be called out, I am in their calling out, don't you worry, but the main thing is we need to continue to do better, not just in Parliament House but right across all the workplaces across Australia because we need to make sure that women feel safe.
KARVELAS: Time has run out. I will be back with you and Jenny McAllister, please come again, I will give you a bit more time next time, sorry, I just really wanted to press the government and that is of course Katie Allen on this panel on some of these issues.
ALLEN: Well I’m not formally a member of the government.
KARVELAS: Well let’s not have that debate…