The Times

The Prime Minister's conference touching on the Jenkins Review

  • Written by Scott Morrison


Good afternoon, everyone. I'm joined by the Minister for Women, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the Minister for Finance, to release the Jenkins Review. A little while ago, I had the opportunity to speak to Kate Jenkins and thank her for the tremendous work that she has done at our request in establishing the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces. I want to thank Kate Jenkins and all of her team, not just for undertaking this review, but the incredibly professional and sensitive manner in which they undertook this review. This is a difficult issue. It's a sensitive issue. It's a very vulnerable issue for people, understandably.

 

I also want to thank all of those who have participated so well with the conduct of this review, in sharing their experiences, telling their stories and, importantly, making their suggestions about how we can make this place a safer workplace for everyone who works here, not just the Members of Parliament and the Senators and indeed our staff, but indeed everyone who works here, including those who are assembled here today.

 

I also want to thank Brittany Higgins for her courage in speaking up about these issues in relation to the terrible events that led her to make those statements. And, obviously, I have to be careful about what I say about these matters, and you'll understand, given where those matters are currently, so please don't take that as anything other than me seeking to support that proper process. But, more generally, I do thank her for standing up and speaking up, and her voice has been listened to, not just in the actions that we have already taken, but in the report that has been prepared now by Kate Jenkins. And her voice has spoken for many, as this report shows, and the concerns and experiences that they have had in so many occupations working here in this building. So, I thank her for that.

 

I thank her for the fact that by speaking up the actions already undertaken to establish the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service, which provides that 24-7 support, that was not here when Brittany was dealing with the terrible events that occurred. The Independent Complaints Mechanism that has been established. Both of these following on from the, for the Foster Report, and I thank Stephanie Foster, who has also worked very closely with Kate Jenkins to ensure the work that she has done is dovetailing well into the work that Kate Jenkins is doing. And, of course, the rollout of workplace training that has occurred.

 

All of these things, already, even before we get to working on the recommendations of this report on a multi-party process, have already made this workplace safer than indeed when Brittany was working here, but not safe enough. Not safe to the standard that all of us who work in this place would expect. As this Parliament and everybody who works here in whatever capacity, this place should be the setter of standards. And that is what I believe this report seeks to achieve. And I thank everybody who has played a role in doing this.

 

These events have drawn attention to this workplace. And these are not new issues. This report, while dealing specifically in talking to people who work here now, those who have been working in this place for a long time - whether it is you, some of you who joined us here today, indeed, Senator Payne, who's been longer here than either Senator Birmingham or myself - know that these challenges in this work, these deficiencies and appalling behaviour that has taken place here, this is not new to this place, and it is applied to governments, workplaces, past, present, going back over a long period of time. And it's important we understand that, because these sort of cultures don't appear in a short period of time. They've been around a long time, and I'm pleased that our Government, working together with the Opposition and the other parties represented in this Parliament, did come together and respond so quickly to these events and have taken action together, and to do so on a multi-partisan basis, because that's the only way we are going to be able to properly address these issues.

 

We all share in the ownership of the problems that are set out in this report. But we all share in implementing the solutions as well. And we each have a role to play regardless of what role you have, whether you’re a Prime Minister, a Minister, leaders of parties in this place - which recommendations specifically address - whether you’re senior members of staff, whether in Parliamentary offices or other offices in this building, or indeed you're a member of staff here and working in the many roles that are in this building. We all share in these problems. And we all share in their solutions.

 

This was initiated by the Government as a multi-party process to fix and address a very, very serious problem - one that we must continue to address in this workplace, as indeed workplaces all over the country must also address.

 

I also want to thank Kate Jenkins for, especially for her insights into the drivers of this appalling behaviour that people have suffered in this place, and the impacts of that behaviour on people, the power imbalance, the gender imbalance, the lack of accountability for behaviour as well as understanding the challenging and demanding work environment that is in this building.

 

But I want to stress, just as I think Kate Jenkins does, and I'm sure my colleagues support and people across this building, just because this is a challenging and demanding environment, just because we work under great stress and strain and long hours and deal with issues that are of great import for the future of our nation, that is all true. Similarly, as you deal with deadlines and various pressures in your workplace, stresses in workplaces such as this are real. But this is no excuse whatsoever to normalise inappropriate, unhealthy and unprofessional behaviour. Just because what you do is important and stressful and demanding, can never normalise that behaviour as being somehow, somehow ok. It's not ok. And we all need to understand the drivers here. Of course, we do important things in this place. It's a great privilege to be here and do those things. That should only stress upon us the need for those higher standards, not for lesser.

 

We have been confronting these impacts. People are living with them. The physical and mental health impacts, the impacts on their careers more broadly, and their well-being. And I thank, again, Kate Jenkins for highlighting those in these report.

 

The recommendations cover, I think, all the important territory that we must address together. As employees, and I speak now as the Member for Cook, not just as the Prime Minister, but as the Member for Cook, I am an employer. The people in this building who are Members and Senators are employers. And this report reinforces that they are employers. And we all must understand how we can be the best employers we possibly can be, how we hire people, how we support people, how we ensure that they are developed and nurtured in the course of their career and find the work they do here rewarding and positive and and it is a very positive experience for them. That's our responsibilities as employers. And we have a great privilege to hold that position.

 

So, I'm looking forward to continuing the multi-party process that we have begun and continuing to work together to address all of these issues in good faith. I want to keep people around the table on this. I want to ensure that we engage with each other in good faith. Expect, of course, that we all perform to high standards. That's what we expect from all of our staff and everybody who works here, but respect them as individuals and their aspirations and what their expectations are of a safe workplace.

 

So, the actions, as a first step, I've asked the Minister for Finance and the Special Minister of State to consult with the Opposition, minor parties and the Independents on a way forward to respond to Commissioner Jenkins’ Review.

 

Secondly, I’ve instructed my Department to provide every necessary resource and support required by the multi-party approach. This multi-party approach, with the coordinating support of the Department, has already served the Parliament well this year in implementing the significant reforms recommended by the Foster Review, and the success of this approach through the Foster Review has delivered positive outcomes, as I've indicated, for all Parliamentarians and their staff.

 

Third, the Government will continue the existing supports that we already have in place, the dedicated units to support staff within the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service and the Independent Complaints Mechanism, 24-hour support line, and the continued workplace safety training. These important supports will keep running and adapt as necessary as Parliament responds to these recommendations.

 

We did not wait to receive this report to take action. We took action through the parallel commissioning of the Foster Report and implementing those recommendations, so we now address these, not from a standing start, but already underway, taking action together to respond to the very serious issues that have been highlighted in this place. These are problems we all own and they’re problems we all have a responsibility together to fix. Marise.

 

SENATOR THE HON. MARISE PAYNE, MINISTER FOR WOMEN AND MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thanks very much, Prime Minister, and let me start by reiterating my thanks to Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins and her team, and commend and welcome the vital work that she has done in this report.

 

I want to thank the very many contributors to this review, which you will see included, 935 survey responses, 492 interviews, 302 written submissions and 11 focus groups. Let me also acknowledge Brittany Higgins, whose own appalling experience in this building was a catalyst for the report and for the input of so many others who have contributed to Kate Jenkins’ work.

 

We have already taken some important steps, and the Prime Minister has referred to those, but this report makes very clear that as a Parliament, we have more work to do. One striking observation is that people are rightfully proud to work in the Federal Parliament. They come here because they want to make a difference, as I know we all do in our different roles, and there’s a reference to people's decision to participate in the review. Many participants explained that they decided to engage with the review because they care deeply about the institution, and they want to be part of the process for change. And that's as it should be. It's deeply disappointing that if anyone arrives here inspired, only to become, only to become disillusioned because of the treatment they experience by others. That is terrible for them. It is completely unacceptable and it's not good for the country that they are serving.

 

So, as the Prime Minister has said, we’ll look at these 28 recommendations very closely and thoughtfully and positively. And I would also make the immediate observation that we, as a Parliament, need to come together to address these issues across parties, across chambers, between elected representatives, between staff, public servants, media, and all others who work in Commonwealth Parliamentary workplaces. We know that the experiences detailed in the report are not unique to Parliamentary workplaces, but as the report affirms, Parliament must have the very best workplace practices.

 

And, so, making improvements is about doing what is right, about making our Parliamentary workplace better for the future. Parliament rightly values high performance. But with that must come equally high expectations about the way that people are treated. Everyone has a right to feel safe and valued and respected, as they do in all workplaces. And today's report is an important further step towards that goal.

 

I also want to say today that I know from the many conversations that I have had around this place and more broadly since the beginning of this year, that the release of this report today may have an impact on people inside and outside this place, on Members, on Senators, on staff and on others who work and have worked in this building. Please, if that is a difficulty for you, please seek the support that the Prime Minister has spoken to. Thank you.

 

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. Simon.

 

SENATOR THE HON. SIMON BIRMINGHAM, MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Thank you, Prime Minister, thank you, Marise. The Government received this report yesterday, and since our receipt of it the Australian Human Rights Commission and Commissioner Kate Jenkins have provided briefings to the Government and to the Opposition and to other parties and to individuals that the AHRC has identified as key stakeholders with whom it was responsible and appropriate for them to engage.

 

This is a report that we would wish had not been necessary, but is essential. The release of this report, as the Prime Minister and Marise have indicated, will be distressing for some who are survivors of sexual assault, sexual harassment and bullying. A number of brave individuals are publicly known as survivors. But there are so many more whose names we do not know, but who did come forward to participate in this review. I thank all of those who have engaged so courageously, so openly, in this review, helping to drive change and helping to create a better workplace for those who come through here into the future. 

 

I acknowledge, as the Prime Minister and Marise have, that the release of the report will be a difficult time for many survivors. I urge those in this building and former staffers, former MPs and others who may have been affected, to reach out to the 1800 APH SPT support line, or indeed Australians more broadly who may be impacted by the release of a document such as this to reach out to 1800RESPECT or the other support services that are provided.

 

This is a landmark document reflecting decades of problems. Some of the findings and many of the stories that are told are distressing and reflect completely unacceptable behaviours. To effect change, there are lessons for all of us to lead, to accept responsibility, to set the example, and Commissioner Jenkins' recommendations reflect those approaches. The report provides a positive roadmap for change in behaviour, culture and practice. The 28 recommendations are rightly focused on delivering a best practice approach to prevention, response and support, as the title suggests, to set the standard.

 

I thank Commissioner Kate Jenkins and the AHRC for the way in which they've engaged professionally, independently and thoroughly in the development of this report. We will, as the Prime Minister said, respond to this report with the same spirit of cooperation across the Parliament as we brought to commissioning it. When we began this process, I sat down with Opposition, with minor parties, with Independents, with staff, current and former, to engage in relation to the appointment of the Reviewer, to the terms of reference, to the timing of the report. It was this collaborative approach that established the confidence in Commissioner Jenkins and the review. And by adopting the same approach to work with the Opposition, other Parliamentarians and staff, to respond positively and in good faith to all of the recommendations, we can create the best possible chance for success in response to this report.

 

As, indeed, colleagues have highlighted, everyone comes to this place, to the nation's Parliament, with a pride in their workforce, in their workplace, whether it's as a Member of Parliament, a staffer, a Member of the Fourth Estate, or indeed the many others who support the functioning of this, our nation's Parliament, they have pride in coming here. They should have pride in their work, regardless of their political views, regardless of the role they play, and they should leave this place with pride as well, whenever that time comes. That's the type of positive environment that we all seek to achieve, and we'll be working through these reports to do so. 

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Prime Minister, this is a pretty damning report. It talks about a trail of devastation for individuals, and I'll read a quote from the report: ‘It is a man's world and you are reminded of it every day thanks to the looks up and down you get, to the representation in the Parliamentary chambers, to the preferential treatment politicians give senior male journalists.’ You've spoken about how long this culture has existed. Will it equally take as long to change? And you've all mentioned Brittany Higgins. Have any of you reached out to her since she was briefed on the contents of the report yesterday?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, first of all, we all have a role to play in answering that question, because the culture of this place goes to every single person who works here. I certainly hope it will, it will not take that length of time. And I undertake to do everything within my power, both as a Member of this place and as the Leader of the Government and the leader of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party, to ensure that we do everything we can to ensure that is not the case going forward. As I indicated, even with the actions we've already taken, and I acknowledge there is a very long way to go, but even the actions already taken over the course of this year have made this a safer place than it was at the start of this year. And I think that's a good thing. This Government has taken actions on this issue like no other government has prior, and that has been led by the events that took us to this place, and rightly has taken us to this place.

 

Now, in relation to specific individuals and their briefing of the report, we have been taking advice on how this should be appropriately handled. As I've always had the view, I’m always happy to meet with people on these issues should they wish to, but I don't presume upon that. And that's why the briefings have been provided through the Human Rights Commission to Brittany and a number of others, as I understand it, and we stand ready to, to work with anyone on this issue as we go forward. But the appropriate actions we've taken and how we're handling this report is we've been following the advice we've been receiving from the Commission and how it's released, we’ve ensured that people have been briefed on this report. Should they wish to have further discussions, certainly with me or my Ministers, then I'm sure they would only be too happy to do so.

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the report found that 51 per cent of MOPS Act employees experienced or reported bullying, sexual harassment or sexual assault. What do you plan to do about the MOPS Act? And this is something that Brittany Higgins did ask when she met with you. You said it was her right to ask, your right to consider. Do you regret dismissing her at that time? And has this opened your eyes? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I didn’t. Well, no, I did not dismiss it because these matters were being considered by by Commissioner Jenkins in this very report, and Commissioner Jenkins has made recommendations in relation to that. And, and we look forward to now making our response to those recommendations. So at, no, I don't accept that, that it was dismissed. I acknowledge that it was raised and it was being raised through the very process that I had established. And, so, I wished for Commissioner Jenkins to complete their work, which she now has, which enables us now to address those issues. As I said before, I think the recommendations cover the, all the right territory, all the right territory. It's important that staff in this place have security of their employment in the way that other, other staff in other places have, and that puts an obligation on employers to ensure that they're employing well, making good decisions when they hire, because if you make a good decision when you hire, then you never find yourself in that situation where you can be in areas of conflict with maybe a member of staff. Much better to have a happy and positive workplace where people are valued and you're bringing people into the team who, who are well suited. And that's that's what I've always tried to do as an employer, both in this building and outside of this building. And I think that's the appropriate way to go forward. But, no, I want to be clear, I have never opposed the MOPS Act being looked at. I wanted that to be addressed as part of the more broader enquiry that Commissioner Jenkins was undertaking. Yeah, Kath.

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, two things. One of the recommendations from Commissioner Jenkins is for targets to achieve gender balance amongst Parliamentarians. In the first instance, do you commit to that? And, also, I'm a bit confused about how the Parliament polices that, given those are decisions that have been made by the major parties in terms of affirmative action and and other policies. The other thing, if I may, maybe I'm confused because we've only just got this report, but there are two bodies here. There's an Office of Parliamentary Staffing and Culture, and there's an Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission. Which one of those is the independent human resources department, because I think it's the latter, not the former, and will that operate as a genuinely independent human resources department, i.e. removed from from principles such as yourself in terms of decisions about hirings, firings, complaints, etcetera?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think the principle that you've set out and indeed I think Kate Jenkins has highlighted is one that we've already sought to put in place with the independent complaints process and what Deputy Secretary Foster has put in place. I think quite wisely, which separates out these important issues so staff members can have greater confidence. One of the distressing elements of this report is the confirmation of that with those who have had terrible experiences of this terrible behaviour that they haven't felt they can bring these forward. And so that independence complaints process with we have already acted upon, set up that process, I think, to make that a, a safer way for people to be able to raise these issues. Now, I want to stress that the take forward of these recommendations is not just a matter for the government. This is a report to a multi panel process and it is for all, all parties. This isn't a report into the government. This is a report into all parliament, but all parliamentary parties, Liberal, Labor, Nationals, Greens. It deals with behaviour over a long period of time, and so it is up to all of the parties that make up this parliament. It doesn't single any parliament or any government out, for that matter. And I think that is understood. But it is for us together to take that forward, and it is not for the government to be obviously taking a position from where we are, but we want to work with everyone else to get this done. I'll let Simon speak specifically to those other two issues. 

 

But on the issue of targets, the report makes recommendations to party leaders, and the Liberal Party has targets on these, particularly, the Liberal Party has targets on them and we do in our division in New South Wales. My cabinet has a third, which are women, which is the highest female representation in a federal cabinet in Australia's history. And I'm incredibly encouraged as I've been able to get out and about from this building, more recently, to be joining female after female Liberal Party candidate in the seats we are seeking to secure at this election, and I'm pleased to see that there have been many more women coming forward. And that's great. I welcome it. It's something I've been working on, as Marise knows, in our own Division for a very long period of time, and I am pleased to say that as Prime Minister, I've appointed more women to my cabinet than any of my predecessors ever in the history of the Federation. And I intend to continue that practice. Simon.

 

SENATOR THE HON. SIMON BIRMINGHAM, MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Thanks PM. Katherine, in relation to the two different entities recommended by Commissioner Jenkins and the Office of Parliamentarians, Staffing and Culture is proposed to essentially operate as a human resources function to take on many of the current functions and responsibilities of the Department of Finance. In that regard, to report and be responsible to the Parliament, rather than to the executive wing of government, and to essentially oversee the operation of the MOPS Act, which is recommended for some particular changes, as well as broader review, under Commissioner Jenkins's recommendations. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission is proposed to be the oversight mechanism to to handle consistent responses and independent investigation in relation to complaints, bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault and other misconduct practises. You will note the recommendations propose a code of conduct be applied as well. This independent commission in that regard would, would obviously take up some of the functions and build upon the work that we've done this year in establishing the parliamentary support services that has established for the first time, independent again of the executive wing of government, a complaints mechanism through the parliament at the centre there and this would build upon that. 

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, one of the things the report identifies consistently is a lack of accountability, even if people do come forward with a complaint. Given what you've just said that you're trying to give people confidence to come forward with this independent complaints mechanism, what confidence can they have that whatever they complain about, they'll get a result, they'll get some kind of accountability? And would you see it as a failing of the government's response to this report, if within a certain amount of time, we are still hearing accounts of people coming forward and not feeling that they got the accountability they were looking for? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is, I think, a challenge that will continue on just as it is in workplaces all around this country. And I think workplaces all around this country are striving to ensure that their processes, just like we are striving to here, what we've put in place this year to continually improve this. And that's what my expectation is that we will continue to do better. The independent complaints process isn't just about making an independent complaint, it is also about a process which has the matter raised properly and addressed and for ultimately even for members, for matters to be referred off to privileges at the end of the day. Now, obviously, members of Parliament at the end of the day are hired by their, by their constituencies. But when it comes to other members of staff in this place of which these issues are raised against, from time to time, then that independent complaints mechanism does address those issues of accountability, and I think that's very important. That's why I commended Commissioner Jenkins on the work she did in identifying the drivers behind this and that process, I think, is very important. It's the same process that sits behind the ministerial standards as well when it relates to conduct. I'm going to come here and then over here and then back there.

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister you’ve noted the propensity of people not to come forward with their [inaudible]. I wonder, firstly, how surprised you were, shocked you were at the statistics in here, one in three people who currently work in the building experiencing sexual harassment, more than three quarters of people knowing about bullying or sexual harassment. So how do you feel about that? And aside from changes to the workplace culture and the employment arrangements, do you think there's a need to actually change the way politics is practised that the actual cut and thrust of politics is creating an atmosphere that allows this to continue? What do you do about that? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, on the first point, like anyone who works in this building, I find the statistics that are presented, they're of course, appalling and disturbing. I wish I found them more surprising. But I find them just as appalling. And that's why the actions I think that are recommended do cover all the territory that enable us to take us forward. And what I've seen in there has only reinforced my view about the actions that we've already taken. And we want I mean, what, what Kate has also recommended here is not just the accountabilities that are necessary for employers in this building, but supports and resources for employers to be better employers. And that is a practise that, that employers are getting support from right across the country, in the private sector and the public sector. And I think that's a good thing. And the report notes that the third figure that you mentioned is similar to figures that we've seen in other workplaces. Now that doesn't excuse it by any sense of the imagination. That's not my suggestion. It's simply to say that we're dealing with issues here that are quite specific to this building. In particular, that idea I was talking about before that just because we sit here and deal with national matters of state that in no way condones behaviour of that nature ever under any circumstances. I don’t care what your job is or what you think your responsibilities are. Nothing justifies that. I always take the approach, particularly when I deal with my own team, but also the members of the public service who I deeply respect in this place, you've heard me say expect and respect. That's, I think, the right way to approach the engagement in this place with the work that we do. So it is a challenge I think all workplaces are dealing with. But I want, as my colleagues do, and I have no doubt the leaders of the other parties in this place do want this building to be a standard setter. And that's what I would hope this report would spur us on to. Oh, sorry. On the other matter?

 

JOURNALIST: Do you need to change the way you engage with each other in the day to day?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, I think we all have a role to play in that, don't you? There is great interest in the conflict of this place, and that is something that many of you write about constantly. And on occasions, perhaps seek to encourage, perhaps. That's been the nature of politics, not just in this place, but many parliamentary democracies and we're an advanced democracy. But we're all accountable for how we engage in the affairs of politics and how, how we report them and the environment in which we seek to communicate. 

 

JOURNALIST: Only 11 per cent of people who experienced sexual harassment reported it. How does it make you feel that the culture under, only 11 per cent of people who experienced sexual harassment reported it? How does it make you feel that the culture under your watch as prime minister has fostered that environment. And out of this process, how is there going to be any justice for victims? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I of course, on 11 per cent again when you see the report of sexual abuse in the community as well as here, of course, that is something that concerns me and I would want these these cases of abuse and sexual assault and of course, reported and not just through the process we have here, but to proper authorities as well because we're talking about criminal behaviour here. And ultimately, that's the place where this must be addressed most urgently. And I'd say you ask about my watch. Well, under my watch, we've introduced the independent complaints process. We've introduced the support service and rolled out the workforce training. We've introduced the 24 hour counselling support line and we initiated this multi-party process to deal with this issue like no government ever has before. So that tells you how seriously I take this. When these issues arose earlier this year, they were deeply distressing, profoundly distressing, and we have not hesitated in taking all possible actions that we could to make this a safer place. 

 

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible], how are you going to ensure there's going to be justice for any of the victims? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we will continue to support the work of the Australian Federal Police and the courts as the states and territories do, and this is a challenge not just for us, but all levels of government. And you know, of course, we want to see offenders brought to justice that is done through our justice process and you won't find a stronger supporter of Australia's justice system than me. 

 

JOURNALIST: A number of recommendations call for things to be done within a year or even less than that in just in terms of the timing. Some of this is going to require legislative change. There's not much parliament in the first part of next year, just before there's going to be a caretaker period. Will you ensure that this is all set up? Will you guarantee that this is set up within the proposed timeframes. And just on the training that you mentioned that you've already implemented, will that continue after the election for all employees, whether they're new or ongoing? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I answered the last question, yes, of course, we will continue with all the measures that we've already put in place and enthusiastically and I have engaged in that training and I must admit, I found it very useful and very helpful. And I commend those who, who are delivering it. And I've had similar feedback from colleagues, and I think that's, that's very positive. In relation to the implementation of the report, I want to stress this is a multi-party process. This is just not a response of the Liberal Party or the National Party or indeed the government. This is a joint project because we have a joint problem when it comes to these issues of bullying and abuse and sexual harassment. It is a problem in this building of all parties. It is a problem of the Labor Party, the Liberal Party, the National Party, the Greens Party. All the parties that are represented here have been here a long time know that we all have a problem that we all have to own and we all have to deal with. And I hope that we can deal with this in the most multi-partisan, good faith way that we possibly can, and that we, that will enable us to move as we can on, on what is set out here. And I don't want to prejudice that approach because I want to engage with everybody around the table in good faith to make sure that we can make that progress. I don't want to see this fall into camps. I don't want to see this fall into, into any sort of partisan approach. I want us to stay around the table and get it done.

 

JOURNALIST: On another on another matter, if I may. There's five joint sitting days, between now, well sorry in the new year before a potential May election. That's not a lot of time to pass the Religious Discrimination Bill or the Federal Integrity Commission. Are you prepared to go to the election having broken those election promises? And what explanation will you give to people if that indeed is the case? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, well, we, I don't accept the characterisation of either of those issues. We have a Religious Discrimination Bill. I have introduced it. I have set it out and we're seeking to take that through the Parliament. We have developed a model for an integrity commission. We have allocated funding for it. We have a 349 page set of legislation to do that. And we have said very plainly that we would like to take this through on a, on a bipartisan basis. And our model is not supported by the Labor Party, who have a two page proposal. We have 349 pages of detailed legislation. So, but I might take us back to the issues of the day.

 

JOURNALIST: I'm just interested in hearing you speak directly to people who might feel hesitant, despite all the measures already enumerated about what's going to happen to strengthen the process. What do you say to them if they're concerned or hesitant, lacking confidence in the system? What do you say to the power dynamics that might be holding them back from doing that? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: We're hearing you. I think what you've seen today and the actions that we've taken is we're hearing you and we're taking the steps that are necessary to hopefully give you the confidence to be able to raise these issues and to speak of your experiences and to engage in the process that has been set up. No processes are perfect. I think people understand that. But I would hope that it was understood that behind these changes are a serious and good faith intent to enable those voices to be heard, for issues to be raised, for issues to be properly dealt with in a proper process. These are matters that I can't imagine a more sensitive issue. I can't imagine a more difficult issue, for any human being to be able to raise these issues, and we have to provide the safest way for that to occur and to ensure that that can be handled properly. So my simple message is we're hearing you and we're seeking to set up the processes that enable your voice to be heard in the matter to be dealt with. 

 

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] commit to legislating the positive duty on employers, that was a key recommendation in Kate Jenkins' Respect at Work report?

 

PRIME MINISTER: We've already given our response to the Respect at Work report and that's set out in my earlier statements. 

 

JOURNALIST: You said several times that this is this occurs in many workplaces. Do you acknowledge, though, that the problem's been, and you've said this over some months, do you acknowledge the problems perhaps been worse in parliament without a stronger HR department set up as corporate life and without consequence? And secondly, as much consequence, perhaps in corporate life? And secondly, on Omicron, the measure that you took. Given the border is already open, why do that pause? Isn't it, you know, you've either got to go one way or the other? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, on the first point you make and I have I have consistently indicated that in this building, in this place, often by the nature of the fact that we have elected members of Parliament and who who are here as employers and and what sits around their employment in this place obviously presents unique challenges to how these issues are managed in this workplace, that is real, this is a unique workplace for many other reasons that all of us understand as well. But as I said that doesn't provide an excuse for unprofessional and other inappropriate and unhealthy and unlawful behaviour. And so, you know, we have our specific challenges to address here. And I think the independence of these HR functions is an important one. The independence of the complaints process, the independence of providing counselling support and the anonymity of that process, I think is incredibly important. The support that is needed to be provided to employers is really, is really challenging. I mean, people who come to this place don't always come having worked in a large organisation with large amounts of human resource experience, they don't come with that. We brought people into this parliament from every walk of life and particularly in our parties, that is certainly the case from all walks of life. And then they are here and they are an employer and they have responsibilities as employers. And when I was sharing with colleagues this morning, that's why I spoke of. We are employers. We have to be good employers. We have to ensure that we've got all the right supports to be good employers. And that's how we can make, as employers, this workplace safer. And the same obviously goes for others who work in this building, ensuring that their workplaces are appropriate. They exist with different corporate structures. You, yourself and others who are here. You work at part of large organisations which have many of the supports in your organisations, but for members of parliament and their staff, it is quite different. 

 

Now on Omicron, let me say this. This is a prudent and temporary pause. We don't know enough yet about it. And the advice that I receive at the National Security Committee of Cabinet for COVID, in which my colleagues joined me on last night, was that this temporary pause will provide the opportunity to understand and learn more about this. It is not a reason to step back. It is just a reason for momentarily that we pause and we seek further information before taking that next step. And that next step is obviously skilled migration students coming, as well as those on a working holiday makers, and the humanitarian programme. We will continue, obviously in areas where we already have exceptions like under the Afghan programme and so on. But that said, this is just about a proven and temporary pause. It is our hope, hopefully our expectation that with Omicron that this will prove to be a more moderate form of the virus. And if that is the case, then we can continue to press forward because what we are keen to do is that we remain safely open and we do not want to take a decision about the next step until, with further information, we know that that, we're not going back to lockdowns. None of us want that. None of us want to go back to those, those long quarantines and all of those sorts of issues. And the way you protect against that, what we did last night was protecting against that by having a sensible pause and to keep proceeding with where we are now and to further assess that information so we can move forward with confidence. Move forward into Christmas with confidence. Look forward to everybody coming together for Christmas and New Year's. And in the summer holidays, Australians are continuing to return from overseas. That hasn't changed. Australians can still leave, although I would urge you, as I'm sure the Minister of Foreign Affairs would, be carefully considering the smart traveller advice and to do all of that. But it is a temporary and cautious pause. 

 

JOURNALIST: On state borders, would you be telling, would you be telling the premiers at national cabinet this afternoon to hold their nerves and stick to their reopening plan so that the internal borders will open by Christmas? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Yes. 

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the New South Wales Premier seems to be ignoring this cautious pause, because he's saying that up to 250 international students will arrive in Sydney next week. 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, that is a separate matter. Because that is a pilot programme that was already in place. We are not ceasing things we were already doing. All we're ceasing was the next step. The pilot programmes we had and I discussed this with the Premier yesterday. So that is entirely consistent. It's entirely consistent because it was already a measure that had been taken and it is under very controlled circumstances and it is part of that process. What we have done is not taken the [inaudible]. We are just delaying, postponing temporarily for two weeks. And indeed, if the information allows us to bring that forward again. Great, tremendous. Because in Australia, we're moving forward. We're not going back when it comes to this virus. We are going to keep moving forward into Christmas and into 2022, and we're going to open safely and we're going to stay safely open.

 

JOURNALIST: Would it be legitimate, there's a couple of premiers such as South Australia who are getting a bit of pressure from the local AMA to follow your example and take a pause on the state border with Victoria, New South Wales. Would that be acceptable [inaudible].

 

PRIME MINISTER: Think of the situation, I mean, many of the states are in different places because they have different experiences of the virus currently. So they're going to have to consider those issues based on the experiences in their own states. And I think that that is reasonable. The point we have made and in my discussions, particularly with the two premiers who have moved already onto removing the 14 day quarantine, is that as I understand it, remaining of the 72 hour arrangement, one of the things we did on Saturday is as as the Minister for Foreign Affairs will know is that we took action to back in the requirements for the PCR testing on arrival. And over that over that early period. Now this is incredibly important. If you don't do that, then you are having an offence both on your entry into Australia, re-entry into Australia, as well as under the public health orders in those states. So you must get those PCR tests for your own sake and for the health and safety of others. And what we want to do is for governments not to be surging forward once again into people's lives, but ensuring that governments are able to step back so Australians can step forward both into Christmas and into the New Year. That is our intention. That is the purpose of the national plan. We need to make calm decisions, not get spooked by this. I can assure you that the Commonwealth is not. I don't believe states are from the conversations I've had with them. The purpose of this afternoon's meeting is to ensure that we're all on the same page about what this Omicron variant is, what its risks are, what its risks are not, and the actions the government is taking federally and as announced, as well as actions that states may then take. What is important is we have a whole of population booster programme, whole of population. Ample vaccines to do that. As you know, we have sought advice about whether the time period for the booster shot should be brought forward. The Health Minister made that clear in the last few days based on conversations we had, and we will take the advice on that issue just as we're waiting for the advice on vaccinations for children aged 5 to 11, which haven't occurred yet. We don't know that yet, but when we will, we're ready to go.

 

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] the Jenkins report that one hour training, was that one hour? And will you be, in light of this report, expanding that to something more substantial? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm happy to take advice on those issues and and learn from what the first round of the training has been and the feedback that has been provided to those who have been undertaking the training. And my experience of it was it was a constructive and a positive one, and I'm sure it was for many others. And that provided feedback and the roll out of training will continue under our government. I think it's incredibly important because it helps employers be better employers.

 

JOURNALIST: Is one hour enough, given one in three staff has experienced sexual harassment?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I found it helpful. But if the advice is that there are improvements in the way that this can be delivered, then why wouldn't we support it? We've certainly supported it without hesitation, as it was first recommended to us, and I see no reason why we wouldn't continue to do that and make sure it's an effective tool for people who work in this place. But with that, Parliament awaits. Thank you all very much.

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