SUBJECTS: Jenkins Report; need for change.
LAURA JAYES, HOST: Well there’s been shocking accounts of sexual harassment and bullying inside Parliament House, a report has revealed to what extent. And they’ve called for a new code of conduct for federal MPs and their staff to be enforced by an Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission.
Joining me live now is the Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles. Richard, thanks so much for your time this morning, and particularly this morning, because we haven’t heard much from your male colleagues of all stripes this morning about this report. Do you think it’s important not just to leave this up to women to respond to it?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: It’s an issue for all of us. And it’s very important that we are all responding to a report which is just very sad and disappointing – is the only way I can describe it. And, you know, if you’d said to me that this report would detail problems with the culture in Parliament House, that wouldn’t have surprised me if I’m being honest. But I have been genuinely shocked by the figures that are in the report, which really speaks to how prevalent this is. And it’s hard not to be really disappointed by what we read here. I think the point that we need to understand is that working in this building is a huge privilege. It shouldn’t be a leave pass for bad behaviour, in fact it should be the opposite. This building should be the exemplar, it should be setting the standard for workplaces – for safe workplaces – in this country. And clearly, that’s not what’s happening. And we really need to see this report as a change point where, you know, we’re asked to have pause for thought about what our culture is here and how it needs to change and it simply must.
JAYES: Well give us a bit of insight, Richard, because you’ve been in Parliament for 15 years, does bad behaviour just get normalised over time?
MARLES: Well, I think the answer to that, given what the report is documenting, is yes. I mean, I think that is what has happened. I wish it wasn’t so, and in a sense I really want to answer that question in a different way. But it’s impossible I think, looking at what’s detailed in this report to see it in any other terms. And that’s why ultimately, this is a cultural issue. We’ve got to change the way we relate to each other, the way obviously we relate to staff, if we’re going to make this a place which is safe to work in, particularly safe for women. And I come back to that point really, rather than there being a leave pass for bad behaviour because you get to work here, it should be actually exactly the opposite. We really need to be the example for the rest of the country. And we’re not being that. And I think, you know, those of us in leadership positions now, we’re going to get judged by history as to whether or not we pick this report up and actually affect a culture change. And I feel the responsibility of that very heavily.
JAYES: It’s not just MPs, it’s staff, it’s the media, everyone who works in that building. This is a building that makes decisions for the entire population on a daily basis, half that population being women. It’s hard to see it in any other way except this report showing that Parliament is in many ways out of touch, isn’t it?
MARLES: Well look, I mean, I love what I do, I feel very lucky to work in this building. I think the building, at its best, brings people from all around the country and is a genuine meeting place and a gathering place. So I don’t want to say that the Parliament and everything about it is bad, that’s obviously not the case. But there are issues that we need to be dealing with here. We do have a culture problem, and I think the question you asked before is right, it’s been normalised over a long period of time and that’s obviously therefore what needs to change. And we’ve got to make sure that we’re in touch. But more than that, that we’re an example for the rest of the country, and clearly we’re not being that.
JAYES: Everyone was shocked by what happened to Brittany Higgins, but as we spoke to Kate Jenkins this morning, she has made it very clear that that was not an isolated incident. Did that shock you?
MARLES: Yes. I mean, that does shock me. I mean, it really shocks me. Because the severity of what happened to Brittany Higgins, well that alone, that incident shocked me, the idea that it could happen here. But to think that it’s not an isolated incident, makes- well it’s just very disturbing. And again, it comes back to that point, you know, we can’t – this is not any other report where we kind of, you know, get the recommendations and we then move on. It’s really important that we see this report, but really the discussion which has happened throughout the course of this year, which in many ways I think begins with Grace Tame in becoming the Australian of the Year – Brittany Higgins talked about Grace inspiring her to tell- for Brittany Higgins to then tell her story. All that has played out this year must be a change point for us, it really must. And this has to become a place that’s safe for people to work, safe for women to work.
JAYES: What do you make of the Prime Minister’s response? He stood up yesterday, it was a lengthy media conference. We saw another from him today, where he didn’t really talk about this report, wasn’t asked about it. But you know, we see reports like this all the time, quite frankly, where recommendations are made and governments say, ‘oh yes we’ll implement them, we’ll talk to our opposite number or make sure it happens’. What are you going to do to make sure that these 28 recommendations are implemented in two years? And it doesn’t just get swept under the carpet?
MARLES: Well firstly, I don’t think we want to make this a partisan issue. And not for a second would I suggest that this is an issue which is confined to one side of politics, one part of the political spectrum, it’s not, it’s about the culture which is in this building. And the second point, then, is that we all need to take responsibility. So in a sense, rather than reflecting on the Prime Minister, it’s perhaps better for me to talk about the responsibility that Labor will take in terms of its own ranks. To that end, you know, we do have processes in our party rules that we’ve sought to make sure are up-to-date, and indeed we updated them again this year. I think we are seeking to make sure that the culture within all of the individual workplaces – by which I mean all the offices of the various MPs – is at best practice and is a culture which is safe. Now again, I don’t think we’re perfect for a moment and we’ve all got work to do. But I come back to the point before, I think all of us who are in leadership roles, we’re going to be judged by history as to whether or not this is a moment that we seize. And this is a moment where we take the opportunity to genuinely change the culture that’s here. And as you say, this cannot be like just another report and it kind of gets kicked down the road this must be a moment where we fundamentally change the way things operate in this building and the way we all relate to each other.
JAYES: Richard Marles thanks so much for your time this morning.
MARLES: Thanks Laura.