Topics: Safety and security of everyone working in Parliament; Morrison Government putting big tech under the microscope with new Parliamentary inquiry.
NEIL BREEN: Time to talk to Home Affairs Minister, Cabinet Minister, MP for McPherson on the Gold Coast, Karen Andrews. She joins me on the line. Good morning to you Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning, Neil, how are you?
NEIL BREEN: I’m well, thanks. Yesterday afternoon I spent a bit of time reading all the stories into the Jenkins report, into the culture at Parliament House. More than half of the people there felt as though they’d been bullied or sexually harassed in their time working there. A third of people thought they’d been sexually harassed. I’ve worked in big workplaces, Karen Andrews; I just could not believe those numbers.
KAREN ANDREWS: Neil last night I started reading the report myself, and I will read all of that report. What really hit home with me, is that for all of those people out there who have either denied or dismissed that there are some cultural issues and some incredibly bad behaviours here in Parliament House, they now have it in black and white just how bad it has been over many, many years. Quite frankly some of the quotes and some of the stories that I read in there absolutely made my skin crawl. So the opportunity is there for us now – and it’s more than opportunity; it is a step that everyone in this building must take – and that step is to make sure that this is a much better workplace for every single individual that comes in here to work.
NEIL BREEN: That’s exactly right, and I’m not trying to give anyone a free pass here, but the Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s been at the forefront of this, I suppose because Brittany Higgins was a Liberal Party staffer at the time and she’s brought the accusation of rape against that young gentleman who’s now been charged. I don’t know how he’s ever going to get a fair trial, but that’s up to the Courts to decide now. But it’s both sides of Parliament – it’s all sides of Parliament here. This isn’t a Liberal Party problem or a National Party problem or a Greens problem or a Labor problem – it’s a Parliamentary problem.
KAREN ANDREWS: I think that’s exactly right, and that’s very clear – particularly from what I’ve read from Kate Jenkins’s report. It is a problem and an issue that everyone in this place needs to deal with; it’s beyond party lines, absolutely. I think there’s a lot of work that we all need to do. We actually have the details in black and white; no-one – no-one – can pretend it doesn’t happen here. So we now need to get on and fix those issues. But it’s an issue for every single person that comes into this building; it’s not just Parliamentarians; it’s not just staffers; it is, in fact, every single person who comes in here. They now have a role to play in turning this workplace around. We all work here. We all have obligations, and we all should have the opportunity to now work together to fix all of these problems that have been very well set out in the Jenkins report.
NEIL BREEN: Does the Coalition need gender quotas like is recommended in the report? And should alcohol also be completely banned from Parliament House? I worked at a big workplace – News Corporation – and Rupert Murdoch banned alcohol worldwide, and it worked.
KAREN ANDREWS: I would be very comfortable with a ban on alcohol in this place. It’s a workplace. When you come in here I don’t think you should be drinking. I need to be reasonably careful about how I prosecute that because I don’t drink very often myself, so I’m not coming at this from my own personal perspective; I am coming at this from the perspective that this is a workplace and alcohol should not be tolerated; full stop; end. So I have very strong views on that. The workplaces that I’ve been in previously it would just not be tolerated. Particularly if you’re out working in industry, there’s no way that alcohol would be approved in that workplace. This should be no different. We’re going into the Chamber to vote on important pieces of legislation. It is absolutely inappropriate that at the times Parliament is sitting, there should be alcohol consumed in this place. I know that is not going to be a popular view with a number of people in this building, but it is my view and it’s my view very strongly held.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, you’ve got my support on it. Because I saw how it worked at News Corporation across the globe – it worked spectacularly well, and everyone accepted it and everyone just got on with their working lives. What about the gender quotas like recommended in the report for the Coalition?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, it’s a really difficult issue. My view is that as a party we need to have more women standing for preselection and we need more women preselected in winnable streets. So that’s a two-way street for us. We need to identify the women in advance, not try and bring them in at very short notice and get them to stand in seats that – quite frankly – they’re not going to be able to win. But we need to, and I hate using the word “mentor”, but we do need to mentor or support women to come in and stand for preselection. That’s a very important part of it. I think the Parliament needs to be representative of the population, and that means clearly we need a better gender balance in this place. I think we all need to be conscious of that, and we all need to work towards it. Now gender quotas are a very difficult issue, and as a female I would say I hate it when it’s put to me that I’m only in a particular role because I’m a female. Unfortunately gender quotas feed into that. So I think we’ve got to get the balance right of how we’re going to get more women into Parliament without them being seen as token women, because that is so hard to deal with.
NEIL BREEN: The Government’s announcing an inquiry into big tech today. We saw the legislation mooted earlier in the week, now an inquiry into their behaviours. This will be interesting.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, absolutely. I think it’s a very good idea to put big tech under the microscope. We need to make sure that big tech is looking at all of the toxic material that’s on social media platforms. That creates an incredible danger for people. It’s not just young people; it’s the mental health of all people who engage on these social media platforms, and even those who have previously engaged but have now decided not to because the impacts on their health and wellbeing. So I think it’s really a serious issue. We need the big tech companies to be involved in this. Everyone is concerned about the impact of social media on their lives. It is very intrusive and it is a very difficult issue for our young people in particular to have to navigate.
NEIL BREEN: Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews: Merry Christmas. Thanks so much for your help on 4BC Breakfast this year. Next year, 2022, the first few months are going to be a roller coaster with the Federal election, so put your feet up at least for a couple of days and come out fit and firing in the New Year ready to fight an election.
KAREN ANDREWS: I will certainly be doing my absolute best to do that. And Merry Christmas to everyone at 4BC, to all of your listeners. I’ve enjoyed being part of your show, so thank you very much for having me.
NEIL BREEN: No worries. There she is, the Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews joins us every Wednesday.