Feb 18, 2021






SUBJECTS: Alleged assault at Parliament House; workplace culture at Parliament House; importance of TAFE; Rebuild with TAFE campaign.


MARCUS PAUL, HOST: The Federal Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, joins us on the program. Good morning, Anthony.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning. Good to be with you again.


PAUL: Thank you. It has been some week there in Canberra, has it not?


ALBANESE: Look, it certainly has. It is certainly very clear that it is not Parliament’s finest week that we have had. Major issues, of course, confronting the country including the pandemic, the need to rollout the vaccine, issues of the two million people who are either unemployed or underemployed. But, of course, there has also been a focus on the reported sexual assault that occurred in the Defence Minister’s own office, of Brittany Higgins, and her bravery in coming forward.


PAUL: Absolutely. One Nation on this program this morning has accused you of politicising the issue. I disagreed quite strongly with Malcolm Roberts when he made that accusation this morning. So I’ll put it to you. I don’t believe you have, but how would you respond to that?


ALBANESE: Well, I haven’t. I wasn’t aware of this issue. This is an issue whereby this woman, Ms Higgins, has come forward with an account and the Government have had different statements at different times, some of which have contradicted each other. Brittany Higgins put out a statement yesterday, saying, to quote her, ‘The continued victim-blaming rhetoric by the Prime Minister is personally very distressing to me and countless other survivors’. That was a statement that she made. And she concluded her statement with, ‘The Government has questions to answer for their own conduct’.


PAUL: Do they? Do you agree with what Brittany Higgins says? Does the Government have questions to answer and should the Prime Minister perhaps explain again why people are alleging that he’s misled Parliament with some statements that he’s made into whether or not his office or he himself had not known about these allegations until quite recently, just two-three days ago?


ALBANESE: There are two issues. One is, when did the Prime Minister’s office know? The person who was the Chief of Staff to the Defence Minister at the time was a former staff member of the Prime Minister and he is a current staff member of the Prime Minister. And so the statement that his office wasn’t aware of these issues needs to be reconciled with that fact. The facts just need to be out there. Ms Higgins has said that she was denied access to the CCTV footage from that evening. And her statement yesterday requires an honest and transparent response from the Government.


PAUL: Surely, Anthony, if there’s been a number of so-called secretive investigations and inquiries, parliamentary inquiries, into this incident, surely the chain of command would dictate that the Prime Minister, the man who holds the highest office in this land, would have damn-well known about it. Even others, including Peta Credlin and including former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, have come out saying that it’s just not credible that Scott Morrison did not know about this alleged rape in one of his key ministers’ offices back in 2019, ahead of the last Federal election.


ALBANESE: Well, they’ve made very clear statements about it. The Prime Minister needs to respond, I guess, in two ways. One is to state exactly what the timeline is here. And if it’s the case that this occurred just 50 metres from his office, that there was contact between his principal private secretary and Ms Higgins more than once, close to the timing of the incident and again at the time that the Four Corners program was being produced last year.


PAUL: This is Finkelstein, apparently the ‘fixer’ who looks after damage control for the Government. Look, I know you need to be very careful here, Anthony. But I guess the question, the main thing that I want to ask you this morning before we move on to other issues, is should the Prime Minister of this country step aside? Because I believe personally that he’s misled the Australian Parliament, he’s misled the people of this country. And I don’t buy for a moment, Anthony Albanese, that Scott Morrison did not know that this young woman had been allegedly raped inside, as you put it, less than 50 metres from his office. It’s inconceivable to me. And I think it’s inconceivable to the majority of Australians. It doesn’t pass the pub test. I’m sorry. It just doesn’t.


ALBANESE: Well, it is quite extraordinary, these revelations. And then also, if the account of the Prime Minister is correct, how has the Defence Minister kept her job?


PAUL: Well, should Linda Reynolds go?


ALBANESE: I asked the Prime Minister this week in Parliament if he had confidence in her. Because I can’t see how this all stacks up. What we need here is just transparency for people to say what happened and when. I think that Ms Higgins deserve nothing less than that.


PAUL: Well, putting that aside, I think the Australian public deserve to know how and why it’s taken so long, and how a young woman can go on national television and announce to the world, effectively, that an alleged rape has occurred in the parliamentary suite of a Liberal MP in Canberra, in our heart of democracy. And yet, she felt fearful of losing her job had she had made a big song and dance about it up until now. I mean, this poor woman has effectively given up her career. She’s unemployable now within the public service, most likely. And her life is ruined.


ALBANESE: This is the Defence Minister’s office. And it’s one of the most serious offices in the land. And the reported incident occurred in the middle of it, on the couch. It is just an extraordinary story. And we do need very clear answers. I wrote to the Prime Minister, I issued a media release, and asked personally in Parliament about an independent inquiry. I am pleased that he has now agreed to that. Quite clearly, I haven’t sought to politicise this issue. But you can’t have no questions being asked when an incident like this occurs in our National Parliament.


PAUL: TAFE, let’s move on to this issue. Anthony. TAFE is where people learn the skills that will build our future. Jobs like social work, aged care, metalwork, and engineering. We have more than two million unemployed, or at least looking for more work in our country. We have a skills shortage. Is TAFE the answer?


ALBANESE: Absolutely, it is. We need to rebuild TAFE. TAFE has to be at the centre of our training programs. It has served many tens and hundreds of thousands of Australians well over a long period of time. One of the things that struck me was when I was up being in Cairns as part of my Queensland visit, that you have devastation to the tourist community, but you also have a skill shortage when it comes to chefs. Even under those circumstances we have massive skill shortages in the traditional trades like bricklaying, there are shortages of people with engineering skills, shortages of plumbers. People out there will know if they try to get an electrician, it can often be very difficult. And these are well-paid jobs. These are jobs that Australians should be trained for. And we should be employing Australians first rather than relying upon imported labour, which is what we’ve done, which is very short-sighted. There’s been $3 billion ripped from TAFE. We have 140,000 less apprentices and trainees today than we did when this Government came to office in 2013.


PAUL: Anthony, it’s great to have you on the program. I appreciate this morning and we will talk soon.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much.