E&OE TRANSCRIPT | SUBJECTS: Vaccine rollout; the right to feel safe working at parliament; Facebook.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN PARTY: Today the Prime Minister is one of the first Australians to be vaccinated. He’s committed that the next 4 million Australians will be vaccinated through March. It’s now time for the Prime Minister to give his plan for how that commitment will be fulfilled. Vaccination is how the world moves past COVID-19. It’s worth noting that around the world more than 100 million people have been vaccinated before the first vaccination took place in this country today. Australians want to see the rollout of the vaccination take place as safely as possible, but they also want to see it take place as quickly as possible as well.
I’d also like to make a few comments in light of new revelations in respect of the case of Brittany Higgins. The Prime Minister has announced that he will participate in an independent review into the workplace culture of Parliament House as proposed by Anthony Albanese. This is welcome. An independent review into the workplace culture of Parliament House is exactly what we need to see happen, but the starting point is that the Prime Minister must deal with the case of Brittany Higgins in a frank and honest way. We need to understand the failures in relation to the lack of support that was provided to Brittany Higgins so that we can all learn from that. Parliament House, along with every workplace in this country, needs to be a workplace which is completely safe for women – no ifs and no buts. Questions?
JOURNALIST: Just on the vaccine. The Prime Minister has already received it just a short time ago. Do you think he should have been one of the first in line?
MARLES: Look, we understand the importance of national leaders being seen to have the vaccine to instil a sense of confidence to all Australians that the vaccine is safe. So we understand why that’s taken place and we support that.
JOURNALIST: Greg Hunt has said that Anthony Albanese and two other Labor MPs have been offered to get vaccinated this week. Do you know who will be getting jabbed?
MARLES: Look I don’t know the answer to that. In terms of Anthony Albanese, as a national leader, he stands ready to play whatever part those experts who are managing the rollout think is best for him to play. And so he’s very happy to get the vaccine at a time which is most advantageous in terms of the cause of promoting public confidence in the vaccine rollout.
JOURNALIST: Just on the inquiry into the culture at Parliament House. When do you expect that review to start and who do you think should lead it?
MARLES: Well it needs to be independent. That’s the first point. It can’t be partisan and it’s not – it’s fundamentally not a partisan issue. This applies to all of us – the failings in respect of the culture in Parliament House is an indictment on all of us and so it must be a process which is independent. It’s a process which needs to be thorough. It needs to start as soon as possible because we need to get answers as quickly as possible within the context of it being done thoroughly.
JOURNALIST: What do you hope will ultimately change?
MARLES: Look, Parliament House must be a place where women feel safe to work – no ifs, no buts. That’s what must change. Women make an enormous contribution to parliamentary life, but the truth of the matter is we need to have more women involved in Parliament and working in parliamentary offices. And that’s not going to happen as long as you see cases that have been reported like this and as long as people feel, women feel that it’s not a safe place to work.
JOURNALIST: Why do you think there are problems – cultural problems at Parliament House? What do you think has contributed to it?
MARLES: It’s a good question. I think it’s a cultural problem which has been long standing. You know, I think Parliament House is a very exciting place to work. I love working there and people, by and large, do love working there because of the opportunity to make a difference. It’s long hours, it is stressful, but it is also a place which is very privileged to work. But none of that can be a license for bad behaviour. In fact, it’s got to be the opposite. Parliament House needs to be the example to the rest of the country in terms of how the workplace should operate and particularly in terms of the safety that it affords to everyone who works there and particularly women.
JOURNALIST: I got a question here if that’s okay?
JOURNALIST: Yes, thank you. It’s Rob Scott from 7 in Canberra. According to the Australia Institute, the federal Government is spending around $20 million a year on advertising on Facebook and obviously, after what happened this week, it’s asking the private sector as well as all levels of government to suspend that spending until news is returned to Facebook. Is – is that okay? Do you support that call?
MARLES: Well, the actions that were taken by Facebook this week were very regrettable. Facebook enjoys a considerable amount of market power and what we saw this week was a very aggressive use of that market power. But at the end of the day it’s also a matter for the Government to deliver its code and make that code workable. I mean we’ve always been supportive of a workable code in Australia which gives rise to a model which properly funds the news gathering and news organisations. But it is for the Government to ultimately land that and what matters now is that the Government does everything it can to work with Facebook to get a resolution to this. We obviously want these significant tech platforms to continue to operate in Australia, but we need to have a workable code that delivers a model which sees the proper funding of news in this country and ultimately that’s actually for the Government to deliver.
JOURNALIST: And – but in the meantime, should we all be taking a look at how much we spend in the private sector as well perhaps, and while the code is being worked on, suspend our spending there and direct it, you know, to other sources?
MARLES: Well I think what matters is that the Government in its dialogue with Facebook makes sure that it is acting as quickly as it can to have a resolution to this –
JOURNALIST: Just while I have got you on that–
MARLES: The actions of Facebook were very regrettable, but we ultimately need to have a resolution here so that there is a workable code so that Facebook remains in Australia and so that there is also a model which allows the funding of news.
JOURNALIST: The former head of the ACCC, Allan Fels, says that Facebook could be liable for a class action after shutting down a whole lot of pages that obviously weren’t directly linked to news. Is that – what do you think of that? Is that – would you share his view on that?
MARLES: Well I suspect legal experts will consider all of those issues in the fullness of time. As I said, quite apart from the legalities of it, the actions of Facebook last week were regrettable. There was a whole lot of really critical Facebook pages, or organisations that were providing public service announcements – information in relation to COVID-19, for example – which were removed. That was, whatever else it was, it was an aggressive use of market power and it’s really important now that we see a resolution to this and that a workable code is put in place in this country.
JOURNALIST: Thank you.
MARLES: Thanks very much.