01 December 2021

SUBJECT/S: Jenkins Review into parliamentary workplaces; Melbourne ICU nurse Gillian Dempsey has died after contracting the COVID virus; National Cabinet commits to no more lockdowns


SYLVIA JEFFREYS, HOST: Welcome back. One in three women in our national parliament have been the victim of sexual harassment, one in three, and that is only one of the damning findings in a report handed down by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner yesterday and the individual stories were horrific. One woman reporting I was sexually harassed multiple times, sexually assaulted, bullied, terrorised and there's more an endemic culture of bullying, excessive drinking and failure to investigate or help the victims. This all inside our national parliament. Let's discuss this now with Northern Territory Senator Malarndirri McCarthy in Canberra. And Sarrah Le Marquand from Stella and Body and Soul magazine in Sydney. Good morning to you both. Malarndirri, to you first, if I can. The report from Commissioner Kate Jenkins was absolutely damning. Sadly, probably not surprising to many, but what was most striking to you about these findings?


SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: It was appalling, really, to read in detail the concerns that have been raised, the complaints. But importantly, as you said, it was no surprise. What we have to do now is firstly, you know, make decisions around where we go from here. But I'd like to certainly just firstly thank Brittany Higgins and in particular, Commissioner Jenkins. We should never as a country be in this position ever again. And we have to say this is the line in the sand for our country, for our parliament and for the treatment of women in any workplace, but in particular here.


JEFFREYS: This would not have happened without Brittany, Brittany Higgins and the courage that she showed coming out with her own allegations of sexual assault inside Parliament House. The prime minister has promised to end this appalling culture in Parliament, but to do that, he's going to need to implement the commissioner's recommendations in full right, Sarrah, do you see that happening?


SARAH LE MARQUAND, STELLA MAGAZINE: Well, I think there is a moment where he is under pressure, rightfully so, and I absolutely agree with what Malarndirri said. Full credit to Brittany Higgins for really bringing this issue onto the political front burner. Just on on this very show last year we talked about it, some of your viewers may recall, Sylvia when there was a report mid last year that was sort of starting to dance around some possible historical allegations against Christian Porter. And it was very much seen as a partisan issue. And I came on the show the next morning and said I was a parliamentary intern in federal parliament more than two decades ago and certainly had a lot of firsthand experience that the culture in our nation's capital is actually rife, this sort of sexual harassment, imbalance of power is endemic. I think what's really important, that was very hard to be heard at the time, was that it is a bipartisan issue and that these complaints can't be politically weaponised. And then I think if you throw forward a few months later, Brittany Higgins coming forward with her allegations really put a lot of pressure on the prime minister. So in terms of your question about implementing these recommendations, what I think is so great and vital if we're going to change the culture, which is what we need is that there's cold, hard consequences: suspending people, docking their pay. That is the bare minimum. And I think we'll see that have a very real and tangible effect if it's implemented.


JEFFREYS: I think it is just the gobsmacking to people around the country that our national parliament is supposed to set the standard for the rest of the country. And this shows that it is the floor when it comes to workplace culture. Malarndirri you were in the Senate yesterday, when a male senator was accused of growling at Senator Jacqui Lambie when she was on her feet, speaking. What's it going to take for everyone to get it?


MCCARTHY: Well, it was interesting. I mean, we we saw Senator Penny Wong get to her feet. We certainly saw the Greens get to their feet. There was something that occurred there. I'm not sure if anyone actually owned up to it. But it does send this important message that if that's the behaviour of our parliament, then why would anywhere else change in the country? And this is what we have to insist does change even right there in the Senate, even during question time. It's not on. That behaviour is not on.


JEFFREYS: Malarndirri, What do you say to young women, to girls who may be considering getting involved in politics or in public life?


MCCARTHY: Yeah, look, that's a really important question. We do not want to lose the women of Australia, the young girls of Australia, to turn away from representing the people of Australia. So that's why it's so important that the men and women of this parliament make a difference, a firm difference to create an environment that is safe, that is productive and a place that people can have a future and feel really good about it.


JEFFREYS: Oh, let's hope that all 28 recommendations from this report are implemented, at least as a starting point here anyway.


MCCARTHY: We certainly we certainly have to look through it all, and I know that the Labor Women in terms of our Labor caucus are very keen on having those conversations, so we'll get back to as to how we go with that.


JEFFREYS: We will watch that space for sure, Malarndirri. Thank you. Let's move on now to another story this morning in a very, a tragic reminder of the risks our frontline health workers face every single day, with confirmation this morning that Melbourne ICU nurse Gillian Dempsey has died after contracting the COVID virus. A mother of three, she was fully vaccinated, making enormous sacrifices for the rest of the population. Sarah, this is just so sad, isn't it?


LE MARQUAND: It's so sad and our deepest condolences, obviously, to Gillian's family. As you say, Sylvie, it's a really sobering and timely reminder, I think, for us not to be complacent. All Australians have obviously been so adversely affected by the pandemic in all aspects of our lives the last two years. And we're getting a little bit fed up, with the new variant, everyone's like oh when's this going to end, when are the mask restrictions, when am I going to be able to travel? This is just a real reminder of the very severe price that our frontline workers have paid throughout this. All of us have to do our bit. And I know that it's probably very little comfort to Gillian's family. But for what it's worth, I'm really asking the general public we have absolute respect and admiration for the work that you've done, for the risks that you've taken. And I know that everyone is, whether they want to be called heroes or not, that's how we perceive you.


JEFFREYS: They are. We are in absolute awe of what they do every single day to protect the rest of us and making sacrifices on their own account and for their family as well. Putting them potentially at risk of this virus as well. We all want to move on from the pandemic, Malarndirri But we can't forget this virus is capable of.


MCCARTHY: Absolutely Sylvia. And I just want to add my voice there, that just in the past fortnight, I've talked to this program about the impact on my family with COVID in the Northern Territory, the fact that hopefully they're coming out of quarantine this week. And I read the article this morning on Gillian, and it just really, it made me really tear up because I've been combating the negative abuse over the vaccination in the Northern Territory, trying to stop people from stopping others and making them frightened about taking the vaccine. So I would like to pass on my sincere condolences to Gillian's family to and thank them.


JEFFREYS: Absolutely. From all of us and there is a Go Fund Me page too if you would like to support the family. And finally, I mean, it highlights a delicate balance that leaders around the country are trying to strike at the moment, doesn't it, with the arrival of Omicron but the national cabinet last night, the leaders that did commit to no more lockdowns, that Christmas, Sarrah, is still going ahead.


LE MARQUAND: Well, I think that is some good news this morning, isn't it? Because I think that's what people are looking for after the two years that we've had and we've just touched upon that very grave side of that. We are sceptical. We've seen promises made, we've seen assurances given and then they're revoked. So I think most of us are probably rightfully extremely wary. But to have this sort of assurance as we're going into the biggest holiday month of the year is really what voters are looking for right now. We want that consensus. We don't want to see any more of our state and federal leaders bickering and squabbling over this.


JEFFREYS: What's giving you hope this Christmas period, Malarndirri?


MCCARTHY: Well, I'd certainly like to see my dad. I haven't been able to see him for much of the year, really, and he lives down south, so we do need hope. Christmas is a beautiful time and should be a beautiful time. I certainly hope we can continue plans to do the travel that's required. But at the same time, I have to point out I have been asking in Question Time why quarantine facilities still have not been built around our country just by the federal government in order to prepare for any further strains. And we are still waiting for that, Sylvia and I will keep asking why two years on, there isn't a federal quarantine facility.


JEFFREYS: It's a good question, Malarndirri McCarthy from Canberra and Sarah La Marquand, we really appreciate your time this morning. Thank you both.


LE MARQUAND: Thank you.


MCCARTHY: Thank you.


JEFFREYS: Have a great day.