ABC Brisbane Drive 15/03/21

15 March 2021

SUBJECTS: March for Justice; Australian Human Rights Commission Report; Independent Inquiry into allegations against Christian Porter



SUBJECTS: March for Justice; Australian Human Rights Commission Report; Independent Inquiry into allegations against Christian Porter

STEVE AUSTIN, HOST: Let's go to the Nation's Capital, Canberra, and speak with the ALP Shadow Treasury spokesperson, Jim Chalmers. Jim Chalmers is also the Labor Member for Rankin, the federal electorate of Rankin, on the southside of Brisbane. Jim Chalmers, I'm intrigued to know, did you march today, or join the March for Justice rally outside Parliament House?

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Good afternoon, Steve. I did march in the March for Justice. I joined with a number of Labor colleagues and thousands and thousands of women who'd come to Canberra today. I thought it was important that I do so, that I listen and acknowledge and try to understand the injustices faced by Australian women, many of them outlined in very courageous ways today by the speakers at the event.

AUSTIN: I understand that Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not attend the march, although I haven't checked that, to be honest. We did invite him on to the program today, but unfortunately, he wasn't available. He did have a little bit to say about the rally. Let me just play it.

Prime Minister: It is good and right, Mr. Speaker, that so many are able to gather here in this way, whether in our capital or elsewhere, and to do so peacefully, to express their concerns, and their very genuine and real frustrations. This is a vibrant liberal democracy, Mr. Speaker. Not far from here, such marches, even now, are being met with bullets, but not here in this country, Mr. Speaker (SHOUTING) Not here in this country (SHOUTING)

AUSTIN: How were his comments received in federal parliament today, Jim Chalmers?

CHALMERS: Well, incredibly badly, and for good reason, Steve. I mean, you could hear at the end of that clip, the uproar that those comments attracted in the House. I think what they really did was exacerbate, make much worse, the anger, and frustration, and hurt, that so many women are feeling today, and in recent times. The argument seems to be that Australian women should somehow be grateful that protesters don't get shot at in Australia. I think that is to entirely miss the point of today's rally. I think that, as you can see on social media and in some of the reactions to those comments, they've gone down extremely badly.

AUSTIN: The Prime Minister did offer to meet the organisers of the rally, but they knocked back his request. Was that reasonable or unreasonable?

CHALMERS: I think it's entirely up to them. It's reasonable that they came all the way to Canberra, they had an event that many of us found a way to attend, and the point that they made was they thought about it long and hard, they consulted. I heard the organisers say that they read the room, in terms of what the attendees at the rally wanted to do, and they concluded that having come all that way, it wouldn't be too much to ask for the Prime Minister to come outside, as many other Members of Parliament did, including a handful of Members of the Prime Minister's own party, and the vast bulk of Labor and other parties.

AUSTIN: They've could've got a private meeting with him, they could have got a private one-on-one with the Prime Minister of Australia?

CHALMERS: Yes, I heard the organiser, Janine Hendry, talking about this this morning on Fran Kelly's program. It was clear that this was something that they thought about long and hard, and they weighed up, and they concluded that, having gone all that way, it wasn't too much to ask. And I think the least we can do is respect and try and understand that decision.

AUSTIN: Janine Hendry spoke with the Deputy Prime Minister in the halls of Parliament House in Canberra, let me just play a bit of that.

Senator Hume: Can I just urge you, please, take the opportunity to come and meet with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Women. World leaders come into this building and take up that opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister. The fact you've been invited is really, really, exciting, please, grasp it and take the meeting. Thank you. Thanks for that.

AUSTIN: I'm sorry, I mistitled that. That was Liberal Senator, Jane Hume, trying her best to persuade Janine Hendry to meet with the Prime Minister. We now know that that didn't happen. Let me play you Janine Hendry speaking with the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack.

Janine Hendry: The Australian Human Rights Commission report landed on the Attorney-General's desk over 12 months ago, and we have not seen any implementation of the recommendations that were in that report and it was pretty scathing. And so, when you tell me that you're willing to look at it, I'm going to tell you, I want some action. (Okay) And the women of Australia want some action. We're drawing a line in the sand, right here, right now. (Alright) Can you give that assurance? (I'm certain that we'll absolutely look at it. I can't give you the assurance that we'll) I'm not interested in you looking at it, you've been looking at it for years. I'm sorry, it's time, and it's time now. We don't want any more reports, we want change. And we want change now. You've had that report for fourteen months. (I understand).

AUSTIN: So that's Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, in the halls of Parliament with Janine Hendry. So, what should happen straight away, Jim Chalmers? If the federal government has this report, what should happen now?

CHALMERS: Well, as Janine mentioned, in that back and forth with the Deputy Prime Minister, it's not like this report has just landed on the government's desk, it's been there for more than a year. Now, this was one of the issues that Anthony Albanese and other colleagues raised in the parliament today. If we're serious about dealing with workplace culture, they've got a report sitting there, they should be talking about publicising and acting on the recommendations. I think that's not unreasonable, after that amount of time passing. But that was just one of the many frustrations that were voiced today at the rally. They're sitting on that report. Some of the other issues around, I mean, Brittany Higgins spoke incredibly powerfully about her experience. And there were other speakers, too. And I think all of it adds up to a real moment for this country, where Australian women are saying enough is enough. These issues have been around for too long. Issues of gendered violence, issues of bullying and the like. And the time has come to deal with them properly.

AUSTIN: So, what are you going to do with the Labor Party? Because Labor women have used a Facebook group for current and former Labor staffers to detail their stories. The reports have included sexual harassment, aggressive and derogatory behaviour by Labor staff and Members of Parliament, and your Leader has said he can't act immediately. So, what is Labor going to do about this?

CHALMERS: Well, we've done three things. We've updated the processes by which people can make complaints which are treated seriously and respectfully. We've done that. We called for a proper process for people to make complaints outside the Party if they would like to. And thirdly, we called for an independent external review, which is being carried out by Kate Jenkins. And, you know, we were the first to call for that, and the government is instituting that, and that's a good thing. So, we have already made at least three calls for things which are now happening, to give people the avenues that they need to make complaints of this nature. But we have never said, at any point, that the cultural issues in our workplace, or the structural impediments for women which limit women's opportunities, are the preserve of just one party or another. I think we have all acknowledged, in different ways, that there are issues here and we need to take responsibility for fixing them. We've done some of that. There will be more to do, in terms of making sure the structures and processes are sufficient to make sure that we can stamp out some of those issues that you just ran through.

AUSTIN: So, what's going to happen now that these Labor women have said today that, you know, that they've experienced sexual harassment, aggressive or derogatory behaviour by staff members and MPs? What's going to happen to those women, those Labor women's stories, that were revealed today?

CHALMERS: Well, as I think a number of my colleagues have pointed out - Tanya Plibersek, Katy Gallagher, Sharon Claydon, Anika Wells - and former colleagues, like Jenny Macklin - our Leader, Anthony Albanese, and others - have all said that there are now processes in place, if people want to come forward with these accounts, then there is a respectful, serious, and if they wish, confidential, way to progress them. That is entirely appropriate. And we have encouraged people, if they want to come forward, to do so. That's why we updated our policies. That's why we called for some of these other processes to be put in place.

AUSTIN: My guest is Jim Chalmers. Jim Chalmers is the Shadow Treasury spokesperson in the ALP. This is ABC Radio Brisbane. On the theme today in parliament, your Leader Anthony Albanese, and Deputy Tanya Plibersek, and Julie Collins, called for an Inquiry into the Christian Porter allegations, but the government voted the motion down. Given all that's been said and done, given that this woman didn't want her details dragged into the media, but now has by everyone in concerned, what would Inquiry achieve, Jim Chalmers?

CHALMERS: Well the important thing that happens here is that the Australian people have confidence that the Attorney-General is a fit and proper person to be the first law officer of the land. The would be the primary function of an Inquiry. I think there is widespread support in the community for an Inquiry of some kind. I don't think people accept something has been dealt with just because the Prime Minister said so.


CHALMERS: And I think certainly one of the themes of today, certainly one of the themes of the rally, but beyond that as well, is that we need to take allegations like this seriously. There are important precedents for having some kind of Inquiry, like the one that we are calling for. And the government should do that, so that they can give people the confidence that they need, that he's fit and proper to be the AG.

AUSTIN: Jim Chalmers, thanks for your time.

CHALMERS: Thank you, Steve.

AUSTIN: Jim Chalmers is the Shadow Treasury spokesperson for the ALP and the federal Labor Member for Rankin, here in Queensland.