Feb 19, 2021







SUBJECTS: Alleged assault at Parliament House; Facebook news ban decision; media bargaining code.


MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: A big week in the Federal Parliament. We had the shock Facebook move, big changes to the Family Court, and, of course, those rape allegations from former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins. Let’s bring in now the Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese. He’s at Parliament House for us this morning. Good morning.




ROWLAND: I want to start with the Brittany Higgins rape allegations and go to that story in The Australian and news.com this morning that has text messages between Brittany Higgins and another former staffer, where the former staffer tells Brittany Higgins he has raised her rape allegation, back in April 2019, with the Prime Minister’s office, and was told the Prime Minister’s office was mortified to hear about it. David Speers has confirmed with that former staffer that he insists that he did raise it with the Prime Minister’s Office. What does that say about the Prime Minister’s public timeline of events?


ALBANESE: Well, it completely contradicts what the Prime Minister has said. Here you have text messages clearly indicating that it was raised with the Prime Minister’s office, and the response from the Prime Minister’s office saying that he would raise it with the Chief of Staff. And, frankly, it’s beyond belief that it wouldn’t then be raised with the Chief of Staff, at least. This occurs in April of 2019. Of course, two weeks after the reported sexual assault. But, of course, also one month before the Federal election was held. And it’s just incomprehensible that the Prime Minister’s office, given a reported sexual assault had occurred 50 metres from his office, wouldn’t have then had a discussion about handling the issues, and about what needed to be done in terms of a response. The Prime Minister this week, in terms of his answers in Question Time, has also said that his office wasn’t informed, and tried to draw a distinction between his office and the member of his office now, and prior to that member going to work as the Chief of Staff to Minister Reynolds. It just doesn’t stack up, and it’s no wonder that people, from Peta Credlin to Malcolm Turnbull, have questioned the accounts.


ROWLAND: But the Prime Minister continues to insist that the first he learnt about the rape allegations was early this Monday morning this week, the first his office learnt was Friday last week. That has been his argument, that has been his line, and he is insistent on that. So, don’t we have to take him at his word?


ALBANESE: Well, it’s just not credible. And they would say that, wouldn’t they? As to quote something in another context, it’s just extraordinary. And, frankly, I believe Brittany Higgins when it comes to the incident and tragedy. She’s been incredibly brave in coming forward. And as a result, of course, pays a price. It would have been an incredibly difficult week for Ms Higgins. And she deserves, at the very least, the respect of straightforward answers about who knew what, when, and what the response was, and why it was so inadequate. Why was she denied access to the CCTV footage? What was the role of the security officers who went into the Minister’s office, where she was? And where was the reporting mechanism there as well? It really is not good enough, the Government’s response at the time. But two years later it’s totally inadequate, it’s really not an appropriate term, it’s far worse than that.


ROWLAND: The Prime Minister, in Question Time, I think it was yesterday, said the Labor Party should not pretend that issues of sexual assault are confined to the Liberal Party. Are there skeletons in your closet?


ALBANESE: Well, the issue of sexual assault isn’t confined to the Liberal Party. It’s a matter for the whole of society. And I don’t purport to say this is about one incident, as the only incident that’s ever occurred throughout Australia. This is an issue that we need to confront and it’s an issue that requires leadership as well. Quite frankly, I was just completely shocked by the idea that a sexual assault can occur on the couch of a minister’s office, is something that I wouldn’t have dreamed was possible. It’s very clear that it requires a wake-up call for the culture in the building. Labor put in place, in 2018, a sexual harassment policy. That’s been updated. It goes to the National Executive next Friday.


ROWLAND: Hey, I want to get your reaction to something Josh Frydenberg told us on this show about an hour ago. He indicated or revealed that he was about to have another phone call at some stage this morning with Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook. Would Labor back the Government, would Labor back Josh Frydenberg, in trying to, I guess, reach some sort of compromise deal with Facebook that could result in Facebook bringing its news content back onto its local website?


ALBANESE: Well, quite clearly, Facebook’s behaviour has been reprehensible. The idea that you block emergency service sites and others is quite shocking. It’s not in Facebook’s interests either, it must be said. They’ve done a great deal of damage to their reputation. And businesses rely upon their reputation. So, I’d say it’s in Mr Zuckerberg’s interests, and Facebook’s interests, to basically grow up, to accept that governments have a right to determine the regulatory framework in which businesses operate, and that they need to recognise as well that the basic principle which people are talking about achieving here is that people be paid for news content, is a reasonable principle, if we’re going to keep journalism going in this country.


ROWLAND: Okay, we’re out of time. We’ll have to leave it there. Anthony Albanese, thank you for joining us on News Breakfast.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Michael.