The Project - 17/02/2021

17 February 2021

SUBJECTS: Alleged sexual assault in Parliament House; the Morrison Government’s response to Ms Higgins.

CARRIE BICKMORE, HOST: Labor Senator Penny Wong joins us now from Parliament House. Senator, the PM says his office only heard about this on Friday. You've said you find that hard to believe, on what basis?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well, I think most Australians who have listened to this would find that difficult to believe.

I do want to start by acknowledging Ms Higgins’ courage and acknowledging how harrowing a week this must be, not only for her but for survivors of sexual violence all over this country. It’s a reminder of why, people should be, the Prime Minister should be far more forthcoming in his responses and so should Minister Reynolds.

RACHEL CORBETT, HOST: The PM has just caved to pressure for an independent workplace review of parliament, writing to Anthony Albanese tonight saying it will be conducted at arm’s length of government. Will that fix the problem?

WONG: First, I don't quite understand precisely what the Prime Minister is proposing. He has now proposed a few options. But let's talk about what we need to do to make this a safer workplace for everybody, particularly for women. We need to work together in a cross-party way. We need to have that work guided by someone independent, not someone who is dependent on Scott Morrison for their job and we need to ensure that we implement changes that make this place safer.

TOMMY LITTLE, HOST: Senator, Albo acknowledged today that this is a problem for all parties. I'm assuming by that, that he has seen some behaviour that's unacceptable, have you as well?

WONG: I think we would acknowledge all of us, women and men working in politics, that behaviours that aren't acceptable have occurred and they need to be changed. We need to make this workplace safer. And one of the ways you make a workplace safer is by ensuring that genuine complaints are not swept under the carpet. That genuine complaints are dealt with. This is what is so distressing about Ms Higgins’ case because what we have is a young woman who has said very clearly, ‘I felt pressured not to go to police’ – that is what she has said. I don't see the Government, anyone from Government, either acknowledging that or taking responsibility for the fact that she felt that. So, safety surely starts with ensuring we deal with complaints properly.

WALEED ALY, HOST: Coming back to the point you made, that you think the Prime Minister needs to be more forthcoming. Can you be specific? Like about what exactly? Because he’s just saying he wasn't told at a certain time. If he is telling the truth there, there’s nothing more to be forthcoming about, is there?

WONG: First, I think he should be clear about when he knew, but as importantly, about when his staff knew and what their involvement was.

ALY: He’s said that, you may not believe him but.

WONG: Well, Mr Turnbull has I think made clear his views about that, but he hasn't been forthcoming about his staff and in fact when we have asked questions about the involvement of his staff it has been very difficult to get answers because neither the Prime Minister nor Minister Reynolds are being straight with the parliament when they are asked these questions. It would be much better if people were very clear and straight about questions they were being asked. As Ms Higgins said in the statement she released today, the Government does have questions to answer about their conduct and they should do so.

ALY: I just want to ask you, not so much as a Labor politician, but just as someone who works in parliament about what we heard today about the security guards letting Brittany into the office and walking in on her after the alleged attack multiple times. In your experience in parliament, is it common for security guards to let people who might be drunk for example into the office at that sort of time?

WONG: Well, I'm aware that security guards will let people in when they forget their pass. But what I was struck by when I read that and when I read Ms Higgins statement is that this was another violation for her. There were aspects of what had occurred that she wasn't aware of until these reports became public. Now, clearly what’s happened is someone has felt so strongly about what occurred that they’ve made a, a whistleblower has made a report to a Senate Committee. I really feel for Ms Higgins having to read some of that detail and not having someone take her through it in a more respectful way.

ALY: Senator Wong, thank you very much for your time.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.