Feb 20, 2021







SUBJECTS: Alleged assault in Parliament House; review into workplace culture in Parliament House; Government’s decision to abolish the Family Court of Australia; domestic violence; vaccine rollout; kitchen scraps bins; recycling.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning. This has been a deeply distressing week. And for Brittany Higgins, she has just shown extraordinary bravery in coming forward with what happened to her now two years ago. We asked on Monday, when we found out about what had occurred in the Defence Minister’s office, we asked whether a duty of care had been given to Ms Higgins. It’s very clear that the Government saw this, in Ms Higgins’ words, as a ‘political problem’, rather than an issue that needed to be dealt with after a serious crime. That occurred, of course, in March. And we now know that a text message was given just two weeks later, saying that the Prime Minister’s office had been informed and was mortified and that the person in the Prime Minister’s office who had been informed would report it to the Chief of Staff. The Prime Minister, upon this revelation yesterday, said that his former Chief of Staff would investigate what happened in his office at that time and who knew what and when. Quite frankly, it is beyond belief that the reported sexual assault happened just metres from the Prime Minister’s office, that people in the Prime Minister’s office were told that the Chief of Staff for the person who is now the Defence Minister, Senator Reynolds, was a former and current employee of the Prime Minister. This was in the lead-up to a Federal election in May of 2019 but there were no discussions in the Prime Minister’s office about this. This is a Prime Minister who deals with all issues as if they’re political matters. It’s always about the politics, rather than the substance. What we need here is honesty and transparency.


We now know from the front pages of The Australian that another woman has come forward to say that she was a victim of sexual assault of the same person who is alleged to be the perpetrator of a sexual assault against Brittany Higgins. This is a quite shocking revelation. It’s very clear, and Labor has said consistently that under my leadership, I called some time ago for there to be an independent review of the way that these issues are handled, a system to be established which would give confidence to staff members or Members of Parliament or parliamentary staff to be able to come forward and have their issues raised in a serious way and dealt with appropriately. That independent review must take place. It can’t be again like we saw with other so-called reviews. The sports rorts saga, frankly, was reviewed by the same person who was the Prime Minister’s former Chief of Staff who is now Head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, who is looking at this issue. Frankly, we don’t have confidence, given what occurred there, that you will get some transparency and some answers. Ms Higgins deserves answers. I believe Ms Higgins. She has been extraordinarily brave in the way that she has acted this week. Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: You spoke about it being a shocking revelation, this second staffer coming out. What was your initial reaction when you heard about this or read about it this morning?


ALBANESE: I read about it this morning. And unfortunately, some of the statistics show that if someone is likely to commit the very serious crime of sexual assault, it’s likely to not be a one-off. And I was shocked by the revelation that was there. It was a very detailed account given on the front page of The Australian. My heart goes out to the person concerned.


JOURNALIST: With regards to this second allegation, do you think it’s fair to say that this wouldn’t have happened had stronger action been taken in 2019 in response to Brittany Higgins’ claims?


ALBANESE: Well, people will certainly draw their own conclusions on those issues. It’s very clear that in 2019, Ms Higgins was made to feel, according to her own account, was made to feel that there would be consequences for her career if she pursued the matter. And that she was discouraged from it and in her own words, that the reported sexual assault was seen as a ‘political problem’ as opposed to a crime against Ms Higgins that needed to be dealt with.


JOURNALIST: You’re calling for an internal review, but at the same time you have concerns about the Prime Minister’s office carrying that out?


ALBANESE: There needs to be an independent review. These internal reviews where the Prime Minister appoints someone to do a review, that only occurred in the Prime Minister’s only words. People will draw their own judgement about the nature of the comments that he made on Tuesday morning about why he had changed his views from Monday. But the idea that you have two reviews, one conducted by a member of the caucus, and one conducted by the Head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, who used to be his Chief of Staff, that’s not an independent review. That is why myself and Tanya Plibersek, as the Shadow Minister for the Status of Women, called for an independent review to be held. We called for that on Tuesday morning. I’m pleased that the Prime Minister agreed to that. But it needs to be genuine and it needs to be looking not just at what has occurred but looking to the future as well, about the way these issues have been handled. I read one report today, to give credit to the journalist concerned, that spoke about parliamentary expenses and how the Independent Parliamentary Expense Authority has changed the culture and how the Parliamentary Budget Office changed the culture as well. You need that arm’s length capacity to deal with these issues, independent of government or any political party, to deal with it transparently. And it needs to have the authority to deal with it as well. The Labor Party will be pursuing that issue. It’s important, of course, that there be agreement on who will conduct such an inquiry and that they be someone who has standing throughout the community and who isn’t in a position of needing the support of the Prime Minister or anyone else in politics.


JOURNALIST: Do you think this is the tip of the iceberg and have you heard other complaints?


ALBANESE: Look, I haven’t. I’ve served as Deputy Prime Minister of this country. I’ve had that great honour. I was shocked that a reported sexual assault can occur in a minister’s office. We know violence against women and children is a scourge. We know that it is prevalent in all areas of society. But the Parliament of Australia should be setting an example. We should be an institution that people can look to for best practice. We need to be that.


JOURNALIST: Should the Prime Minister make public the internal review into his office done by the head of his department?


ALBANESE: Of course, he should. If he doesn’t, it’s a complete farce. We’re questioning it even before it happened. Can I say this? The idea that the Prime Minister’s office was contacted now eight days ago about this story before it appeared on the Monday, it didn’t come as a surprise when it appeared on the Monday. The idea that this occurred in 2019, that Linda Reynolds’ Chief of Staff is working in the Prime Minister’s office, there are texts going back to April 2019 from a member of the Prime Minister’s office to Ms Higgins and a conversation about whether Ms Higgins wanted the prime ministerial staffer to take it up with the office and that staff member said he would raise with the Chief of Staff, the idea that the Prime Minister’s office found out about this last week is simply not credible. The Prime Minister needs to say exactly what the real timeline is. The idea that he hasn’t asked and that the Head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is going to be the first person who says to the Chief of Staff or to his chief political adviser or the person who Ms Higgins describes as ‘the fixer; in the Prime Minister’s office, who Ms Higgins says contacted her around the time of the reported sexual assault, after that, and then contacted her again at the time of the Four Corners show about Parliament House events, it is just not credible.


JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister says this isn’t an issue limited to one party or to the Parliament. Do you agree with that?


ALBANESE: Of course. Sexual assault is a scourge on our society. There is no question that’s the case. And it occurs far too much. We know that. I doubt whether there’s anyone who is an adult in society who does not know someone who’s been a victim. Overwhelmingly, it’s women and children who are victims. We need to do far more as a Parliament in terms of policy making, in terms of funding. There are women’s refuges in this electorate that deal with the victims, women and children. We know that yesterday was a commemoration of the murder of Hannah Clarke and her three beautiful daughters. This is an issue. But politics has an impact on it as well. I fail to understand how the abolition of the Family Court will assist in what we need to do as a society. And the fact that that happened this week, of all weeks, is in my view, deeply regrettable. Thanks very much.


JOURNALIST: When will you be getting the vaccine?


ALBANESE: I haven’t been informed when. I note that it’s been reported a few times that I would be getting the vaccine. Can I say this? The Government has reported that. I’ve had no conversations with Scott Morrison or Greg Hunt about getting the vaccine. I’ve said, obviously, just as other leaders in countries, whether it be Mr Netanyahu or President Biden and others, if it helps with confidence, then I’m certainly willing to get the vaccine and I’m willing to get it on a timeline in accordance with the Chief Medical Officer when he thinks it’s appropriate. I’m conscious of the fact that some people would view that political leaders getting the vaccine before essential workers is a grey area. And it would only be done on the basis of advice from the Chief Medical Officer. Because quite clearly, we need to make sure that our frontline workers are getting the vaccine. But I await advice from the Government but perhaps they could give me the advice directly rather than just talk about it in media conferences.


JOURNALIST: The Government is considering rolling out kitchen scrap bins for every household around the country. What do you make of this? Obviously, it’s a council issue at the moment. What do you think of taking it to a Federal level?


ALBANESE: This is a Government that is indeed in command of recycling their recycling announcements. They’ve made a range of announcements about recycling, most of which have resulted in absolutely nothing happening. This is a Government that should recycle products rather than announcements.


JOURNALIST: Do you think that there’s merit in having bins for kitchen scraps?


ALBANESE: There are merits in recycling. I know that here, in terms of where you are now, the Inner West Council has a very good green recycling program. It operates very effectively. I know, as well, a range of councils will provide compost bins for people for their gardens in order to recycle that directly onto soil and into gardens. And that’s a very productive thing. If the Commonwealth wants to show leadership, then that’s a good thing too. But at the moment, all they have recycled is their announcements.