Interview with Deborah Knight, 2GB, Afternoons

  • Transcript
23 March 2021

Deborah Knight: Marise Payne is the Minister for Women, she's also the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Acting Minister for Defence, and she's on the line for us now. Minister, I want to discuss the Prime Minister's press conference with you. But first the flood emergency. Just give us an idea of the help that the Defence force is currently providing.

Marise Payne: Well, thank you very much, Deb, and our thoughts are with all those communities, particularly in New South Wales, who are affected by this series of flood events - and frankly, that includes my own community in Penrith. It's certainly very difficult to be away from them at the moment at this very difficult time.

The Australian Government, and including the ADF, we're in very close contact with New South Wales authorities, and working on the mobilisation of those resources to assist the New South Wales Government with these flood emergency issues. We've got two ADF helicopters today deploying New South Wales' request to support search and rescue activities for the flood emergency - they'll provide 24-hour operations from Nowra and from Bega. And we're well equipped, of course, to provide further assistance if required. Unfortunately, we have all too much experience of recent natural disasters where that support has been provided, including of course, the pandemic as well. But, I know the clean-up task, and particularly clearance and recovery is going to take a large number of ADF-

Deborah Knight: [Interrupts] It's going to be massive, isn't it?

Marise Payne: It is. ADF personnel and equipment. So, we will see, I think, between 500 and 1000 ADF personnel as part of that. There'll be engineering support, we'll deploy emergency support forces and equipment, and we will use some reserve support for that as well. I'm very proud to hear of the number of reservists who have offered up their help, and I want to thank their employers as well for enabling that to occur. I know that they can't come and help the ADF without their employers allowing them to do that.

Deborah Knight: Yeah. It's very welcome help, that is for sure.

Now, this morning the Prime Minister delivered that very emotional, very powerful press conference. What was your reaction when you first heard about these disgusting videos being shared, and the behaviour in Parliament?

Marise Payne: I was horrified, absolutely horrified. The release of that material or the playing of that material last night, I think it's debasing, I think it's degrading and it is beyond disappointing and unacceptable. And it comes, as you said in your opening remarks, on the back of a number of events and issues which have been made public in recent times. And I do think it absolutely reinforces the need for the independent review that the Sex Discrimination Commissioner will carry out in this workplace.

Deborah Knight: And the Prime Minister acknowledged that he could have done things better. Do you also concede that the Government and yourself, as the Minister for Women, may have missed the mark in dealing with the treatment of women at any time during this past month?

Marise Payne: Deb, there will be a range of different views on, on responses and on engagement - of course, I acknowledge that. I've worked in politics for a very long time, and not everybody agrees at all times with those things. But importantly-

Deborah Knight: [Interrupts] Because takes a lot to admit that you may have gotten things wrong, or missed the mark. The Prime Minister has done that this morning. Is that something that you concede?

Marise Payne: [Talks over] Yes, he has. And I absolutely understand the points that he has made, and also the different views that have commented on, on responses - mine and others - in recent weeks. And I do think that one of the very key steps that we were able to take early was to ensure that we were working right across the Parliament. And I think it would be a big mistake for anybody to think that, sadly, bad behaviour - not the same behaviours, not the same issues, but the bad behaviour – is the purview of only one side of politics in this place. Sadly, it's not.

Deborah Knight: [Interrupts] Well, absolutely. Look, it's-

Marise Payne: We did reach out across the Parliament. I sat down myself with Simon Birmingham; with the Shadow Minister for Women, Tanya Plibersek; the Shadow Special Minister of State, Senator Farrell; and Katy Gallagher to talk about their priorities for the independent review. And Minister Birmingham had a range of other meetings as well. That's how we got to the point on the 5th of March where the Sex Discrimination Commissioner was appointed to lead this independent review. She has briefed my Party Room this morning and responded to questions from members in that Party Room, and also the establishment of the sorts of support for staff that have clearly been needed, or it is evident have been needed. That includes the independent 24/7 parliamentary support line - that is an immediate and interim measure; but the Deputy Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Stephanie Foster, a highly capable senior professional bureaucrat, is bringing all of that together for the Parliament's processes to support people when incidents arise.

Deborah Knight: Which is all, which is all important measures to be taking, absolutely. But we did see this morning also, LNP MP, Michelle Landry, who was asked her thoughts on these videos - which you've described as horrifying, that the Prime Minister's described as disgusting - and she said that she felt bad for the staffer who's been sacked. And she says he was a good worker who loved the place. Is that missing the mark? What sort of message is that sending?

Marise Payne: I didn't hear Michelle Landry say that this morning, Deb.

Deborah Knight: She was asked as she entered the halls- entered the doors of Parliament this morning.

Marise Payne: But I think that anybody who has engaged in that sort of behaviour in the workplace, in this building or anywhere, does not deserve to keep their job.

Deborah Knight: And that should apply to people who were sharing the content as well? Not just those who are participating in these acts?

Marise Payne: Well, I think that anybody who has participated in those behaviours would have to accept that their behaviour is completely unacceptable. Yes.

Deborah Knight: Just on the issue of the March 4 Justice rally - and I know that you don't normally attend rallies, you've said as much, and that you did offer to meet with the organisers privately - but do you think that was a missed opportunity? Because the Prime Minister has said this morning that he is listening, wanted to convey that very strong message that he is listening to women who have had enough of the crap they've had to put up with over the years, over the decades. Do you think that just taking a few minutes to step outside to show these women rallied there that you hear them, that you are listening? That would have been an opportunity to prove as much?

Marise Payne: So, Deb, I absolutely hear them. I absolutely am listening. It's what I have been doing for my entire professional career and including my parliamentary career. It's what I do here every day, and in fact, around the world every day in the context of my broader parliamentary responsibilities. It's not something that I would normally do. I've said that publicly. There will be many people who disagree with that view. They'll be many people who agree with that view. And ultimately, we have now received the petition that was presented. It has some key priorities outlined in it, some of which the Government had already and is already progressing, others of which we will work together to respond to, from the Prime Minister, to me, to the Treasurer, to all of the Cabinet colleagues who are involved. And also, I have to say, the invitation to- or the opportunity to meet, which was politely declined – and I understand the priorities and the approach of those involved – is a standing invitation.

Deborah Knight: Now, your colleague, Karen Andrews, this morning was very clearly frustrated by the treatment of women in Parliament. She said the Government needs to seriously look at something like a quota. The Prime Minister, during the press conference, said that he was very open to looking at the idea of a quota. What are your thoughts?

Marise Payne: Well, I've made comments on this before and I do think that we have to consider every single option available to us in relation to encouraging more women and in ensuring more women enter Parliament. I've also been on the record – and it's not always welcomed by my own party – in saying that I want to see that across the board, because I do. And in my own organisation where I have worked for many years - from the days of, frankly, the Howard government to encourage more women into Parliament. The frustrations are significant and I think the Prime Minister has acknowledged those today, as did my friend Karen Andrews, and whether it takes a good, hard look at options for much more focused initiatives like quotas - well, of course, we should look at those and we should look at them properly because clearly, there are ongoing issues that means in parts of our organisation, we have not been able to achieve the outcomes we want.

Deborah Knight: And do you think that we need swifter action here? Because we know- we heard from Phil Gaetjens yesterday saying that the review, the inquiry is paused, is on hold, and we also heard on Four Corners last night that the security guard who was the first person to see Brittany Higgins after the alleged rape in the office of the Defence Minister had not been spoken to, or spoken to at all by investigators or had no one contact her for the past two years. Do you think we need swifter action in what we're seeing?

Marise Payne: Well Deb, the police and law enforcement can only take action when there is a formal and official process under which that would be required, and that involves the laying of a formal complaint. Now, as to what the Department of Parliamentary Services or other agencies within the building and outside the building have done in that interim period, I am not privy to all of those, but we have had a lot of discussion, both here in the parliamentary context and more broadly around Australia, around notifications in relation to sexual assault. I think it's fair to say that there are a range of views about whether there should be an automatic or mandatory notification or not. Many would say, in relation to survivors, that we should be working first to exercise the most robust protection for the survivor, and then, views about whether formal complaints are laid are obviously taken in that context.

I was in Estimates last night for a period of time. I did not see the Four Corners itself, but I do think the police investigation, which is now underway, has to be allowed to run its course. I understand that that is the reason that has resulted in the pausing of the work being done by the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet. But I do think allowing that police investigation to take place now, as you say, after a period of two years, is very important. I know that the Australian Federal Police will carry that out with the utmost of professionalism, as they do, and will provide, I hope, the utmost of support to the complaint - in this case, to Miss Higgins.

Deborah Knight: Okay, before we go, two quick ones. Australia's followed our allies in condemning China's treatment of the Uighurs in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. Now, why haven't we gone as far as imposing sanctions on China? Because that's what they do to us all the time.

Marise Payne: We don't have quite the same structure as a number of our counterparts in relation to the application of sanctions. Although, the Government has received from the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade a recent inquiry report into the application of what are known as Magnitsky sanctions in Australia. I'm working with the Prime Minister on the response to that right now. What we have been clear in saying – and we have worked through the United Nations, through the Human Rights Council, and other International fora – in being very clear about our grave concerns about what are a growing number of credible reports of these severe human rights abuses against both ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. I have seen very clear evidence, particularly of systematic torture and abuse of women, which concerns me and many of my international counterparts, but also mass surveillance, large-scale extrajudicial detentions, forced labour and a number of other actions. So, sanctions- sanction measures taken overnight by Canada, by the European Union, by the UK and the US are welcome, and both Australia and New Zealand are standing with those countries and with the European Union in terms of their processes.

Deborah Knight: Alright. Marise Payne, I know you've got a lot on your plate. We appreciate your time this afternoon.

Marise Payne: Thanks very much, Deb.

Deborah Knight: Marise Payne there, the Minister for Women, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Acting Minister for Defence.

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