Topics: Reshuffle, Home Affairs portfolio
Fran Kelly: Well, Scott Morrison used his Cabinet reshuffle yesterday to try and draw a line under the political crisis engulfing his government and its treatment of women. The number of women in Cabinet has been restored to seven, and a new ministerial taskforce will be established to deal with women’s equality, safety and economic wellbeing. The Prime Minister says the changes, which he was forced to make to deal with the problems presented by Christian Porter, former attorney-general, and Linda Reynolds, former defence minister, will quote: shake-up what needs to be shaken up and provide a fresh lens to achieve real change for women”. One of the biggest winners in the Cabinet shake-up is Industry Minister Karen Andrews. She’s been promoted to the mega-security portfolio of Home Affairs. I spoke with Karen Andrews earlier.
Karen Andrews: Thank you, Fran. It’s a pleasure to be back.
Fran Kelly: The Prime Minister says all of these changes are aimed at elevating the female perspective in his Cabinet. Now, some will undoubtedly see it as just rearranging the deck chairs in a government with problems when it comes to women’s issues and safety. How will this drive real change for women?
Karen Andrews: Well, I don’t see it as just shuffling the deck chairs, quite frankly. I think there’s been a much stronger focus in this reshuffle on women and recognising the significant issues that women face, whether it’s with their safety, whether it’s with their security. But we can’t move away from the fact that we need to make sure that we are supporting women in every workplace.
Fran Kelly: But where is the stronger focus? I mean, talking about a stronger voice in Cabinet but you, in fact, all but one of the women in Cabinet, were already in the Cabinet. So what’s different here and how are you going to make your voices heard in a louder or more impactful way and why hasn’t that been happening already?
Karen Andrews: Well, there are specific responsibilities in relation to women now that the Prime Minister has specifically allocated to Anne Ruston, to Jane Hume, to Amanda Stoker. And of course, I will continue in my role. There is a new taskforce that will be chaired by the Prime Minister and Marise Payne as the Minister for Women. And that will include all of the female ministers. So, what you’re seeing now is a very concerted effort to make sure that the voices of women are heard and that we are reflecting the views of women in the community.
Fran Kelly: This new women’s ministerial taskforce, how will that work? Will it come up with its own policies for women? Will it take policies to the Treasurer and the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister? Or will it simply vet the policies formulated in the normal manner, to ensure that they are, you know, female-friendly? And how often will it meet?
Karen Andrews: Well, that detail is still being worked through at the moment. But I think what is clearly going to happen is a stronger role for women in developing policies to making sure that the policies that are being developed across government, are mindful of the impact that they will have on women. I think that initially, the taskforce is likely to take a wide ranging view, to understand the issues. But it’s a responsibility of everyone who is on that taskforce to properly represent the views of women.
Fran Kelly: And the Prime Minister talks about getting the lens on policy challenges and policy development. You’re one of the most senior women in the Cabinet now; you will be there on that taskforce. What will you be pushing as a priority in the run-up to the May budget? Law reform to fix the low conviction of sexual assaults? More money to tackle violence against women and children? Cheaper childcare? Is there somewhere you want to focus?
Karen Andrews: Well, my portfolio has clearly changed and in the- in my former role, well I’m actually still in that role at this point, the focus has been very much economics. So our economic recovery. My new focus, will be on security. So from a women’s perspective, I will be looking at our policies and how they support women’s safety and security. And I’m not going to be the only minister who’s looking at that. Right across the taskforce, there will be strong views from many of the women on what those important issues are.
Fran Kelly: The Prime Minister is flagging a tougher approach to social media platforms, including Facebook, which he says are fomenting disrespect towards women, which can then turn into something much worse, like harassment and assault. But can we blame social media? I mean, was social media to blame for Brittany Higgins’ allegation of rape? Is it to blame for your Queensland colleague, Andrew Laming’s treatment of women in his local community? And there’s no doubt social media has its problems. But is this a bit of a cop-out?
Karen Andrews: Social media certainly has a range of problems. Is it the only problem? No. Clearly not. There are a range of issues that we need [indistinct]-
Fran Kelly: [Interrupts] Sexual harassment, sexual assault existed in this dimension before social media was predominant.
Karen Andrews: Yep, absolutely, and that’s why social media is – and dealing with the issues that social media presents is not going to be the only solution that we need to look at. It’s clearly exacerbated. I mean, back in the days where kids were able to come home from school and at least get a break, that doesn’t happen now because they have access to so much social media. That has an impact on their lives. It has an impact on adults as well. So, there are some things that we need to be looking at with social media and the impact on our lives and we should not walk away from having to take strong actions needed to deal with that. There’s a level of anonymity in social media that is concerning, that people are not making comments under their own name and they can hide and I don’t think they should be allowed to hide.
Fran Kelly: Can I ask you about your colleague Andrew Laming? He’s tried to explain or excuse his behaviour towards women in his local community. For example, he says the up skirting photograph he took was quote: completely dignified while the woman was on both knees. He said the photo he took of other female constituents weren’t sexually motivated. Do you accept his explanation or does Andrew Laming still not get it?
Karen Andrews: ’s behaviour is just not acceptable. It’s just not and it cannot be rationalised, it cannot just be covered up and he does need to take responsibility for that. Now, he has said he will own his mistakes and that he will take action to address that through counselling. Good, I’ll be looking to see what the outcomes of that are. But, I would expect significant changes in Andrew Laming’s behaviour because it hasn’t been acceptable.
Fran Kelly: If Andrew Laming’s behaviour isn’t acceptable; do you accept him in your party room? Your colleague, Sarah Henderson, has said that she’s uncomfortable with him being in the party room. We’re not going to cop this bad behaviour. Do you accept him being there?
Karen Andrews: Well, he is a member of the Liberal National Party. He’s also the elected member for Bowman. Now, the LNP-
Fran Kelly: [Talks over] He could sit on the crossbench?
Karen Andrews: Well, he could probably do a lot of things. I think the strongest signal that he’s given is that he’s not going to recontest the election.
Fran Kelly: It turns out his behaviour was not news to a lot of people, that there’s some who are electorate members who were aware of it and can’t believe it’s taken so long for it to be reported. As a fellow Queenslander, were you aware of some of these sorts of behaviours?
Karen Andrews: Look, I wasn’t aware of the allegations that have been made at all. I knew that he was certainly very active on social media, that he does work to lift his profile through social media. I didn’t look at what his posts were personally. I hadn’t realised that he had gone off the rails.
Fran Kelly: You’re listening to Breakfast. Our guest is the new Home Affairs Minister, Karen Andrews. As the new Home Affairs Minister, it’s one of the biggest jobs in Cabinet. Did you know you were in the running for this promotion? Did you lobby for it?
Karen Andrews: No, I didn’t know and I didn’t lobby for it at all. So, I took a call from the Prime Minister mid-morning yesterday when he offered me the role of Home Affairs. So, yes, I was initially surprised, because it’s a security portfolio and I’ve been in economic portfolios before. But the more I start to get my head around some of the issues that I’ll be facing in the Home Affairs, and I stress that it’s very, very early days at this stage. I haven’t had full briefings.
Fran Kelly: You won’t be sworn till this afternoon. So, it’s very early days. But, in terms of pressing priorities, Labor and others are calling for more action to get stranded Australians home. There’s still 36,000 people stranded, unable to get home at this time of the pandemic. Do you support opening up new quarantine facilities to manage higher numbers coming in? How much does this weigh on you?
Karen Andrews: Look, it clearly is an issue and I’ve been across that in general from a whole of government point of view. And I know that there are significant issues. There has been an issue with being able to get workers in, as well as getting Australians home. What I will be doing is getting briefed on that, that will happen later this afternoon and tomorrow. And then I will be in a much better position to understand the action that needs to be taken to get as many Australians home as soon as we can.
Fran Kelly: We just spoke earlier on the program to the New South Wales Civil Liberties Council. They say there’s- one of the problems is there’s no transparency around the rules for who gets in and who gets out of Australia at the moment. And they said there seems to be – and I see this a lot in the comments we get here on the program – one rule for the wealthy and the well-connected who seem to get priority getting in and out over ordinary Australians. Will you do something about that?
Karen Andrews: I’ve always believed myself to be in the category of firm but fair and I do believe in transparency as much as possibly there can be. And given that I’m now moving into a new role with Home Affairs, there will obviously be some constraints in the interests of Australia’s national security. I do believe very broadly in equal opportunity for all Australians.
Fran Kelly: There’ll be many chances, I hope, to speak to you about your new portfolio once you’re actually in the job and the issues come up. One of those issues that always comes up is around asylum seekers. And on this program, we’ve dealt a lot with the issue of the family called the Biloela family. They’re are being held on Christmas Island, they’ve now spent three years in detention. The Government’s efforts to deport them has so far cost over $6 million. Is it time that this couple and their two little girls, the two girls who were born here in Australia were allowed out of Christmas Island and allowed to go home to Biloela to a community that wants them to live amongst them?
Karen Andrews: So I understand all the issues from the community and I understand that there are a range of legal issues that still need to be addressed and I will be briefed on that particular case in more detail probably tomorrow morning.
Fran Kelly: Do you see that- do you have a human response to this, to two little girls being in detention for three years?
Karen Andrews: Look, there are, Fran, a significant number of issues. It would be very unwise and inappropriate of me to be commenting on that particular case or any case until I am fully briefed on all of the issues.
Fran Kelly: Alright, Minister. Well, we’ll try to keep it on your radar, but thank you very much for joining us.
Karen Andrews: It’s a pleasure, Fran.
[End of excerpt]
Fran Kelly: Karen Andrews, the incoming Minister for Home Affairs.