Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Tuesday, 23 March 2021
Ben Fordham: Simon Birmingham, the Finance Minister, joins us from Parliament House. Minister, good morning to you.
Simon Birmingham: Hello Ben, thanks for the opportunity.
Ben Fordham: Have you seen any of this material?
Simon Birmingham: Oh, look, I've seen snippets of what was aired last night, all of which is, of course, pixilated and so forth. But it's disgusting. It's appalling. And the government has no tolerance for it whatsoever. And last night we sacked one individual who we were able to identify. And the Prime Minister's pretty clear that the same fate awaits anybody else who's involved in such terrible misconduct.
Ben Fordham: How many others were involved in this chat room?
Simon Birmingham: I understand from the media reports that there were three others. It's not clear to me whether they're all still in the employment of the government. But we have reached out through an intermediary to the whistle-blower who was on Network Ten last night asking for his cooperation so that we can try to identify precisely who it is. And as I say, it won't be tolerated. And it's a message there for everybody. There are real consequences. You will lose your job. You'll be marched out of the building and you won't be coming back if you are engaged in such terrible misconduct.
Ben Fordham: So just to be clear, anyone else who was part of that chat group who turned a blind eye to the actions, if they are still in the employ of the federal government, they will be sacked?
Simon Birmingham: If they are engaging in these sorts of actions, they will be sacked.
Ben Fordham: Not just engaging in these sorts of actions if they were part of the chat group and turning a blind eye to that kind of behaviour, they'll be sacked or not?
Simon Birmingham: There's zero tolerance for these things. And so if people had awareness of it, we're condoning it. We're supporting it or encouraging it, and then they can expect the same sort of consequences.
Ben Fordham: Can you appreciate? I'm sure you do, Minister. You've got a real problem on your hands here at the moment in Parliament House. This is not just a Liberal Party issue because a group of Labour staffers have already been making aware to Anthony Albanese, the Labor leader, that there are issues in the Labor Party as well. But you're in government, the prime minister's in the prime minister's office, and there is a real cultural problem inside that place.
Simon Birmingham: I do appreciate it, Ben. The immediate actions, just those the immediate ones, the work that we've already asked Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner to do, looking at how we change the culture, the practises and the processes across parliamentary workplaces is of crucial importance to affect change for the long term as well. It sickens me the fact that there are innocent staff coming into this building today who feel the sense of shame working here and that shouldn't be the case at all, people should feel a sense of pride working in the nation's parliament. And that is the type of environment I want us to make sure we create for the future.
Ben Fordham: The security guard on duty the night Brittany Higgins was allegedly assaulted in Parliament House has broken her silence. Her name is Nikola Anderson. She says that Brittany Higgins and a male staffer both went into Linda Reynold's office intoxicated. The male colleague was seen leaving the building in a hurry. About 20 minutes later, at about 4.20 AM, the security guard, Nikola Anderson discovered Brittany Higgins naked and asleep on a couch in the minister's office. She closed the door to protect Brittany's dignity and was told by a team leader to let her sleep it off and leave her there. Let's listen more to Nikola Anderson.
I then rang my team leader again and said, look, she still hasn't left, for which he then told me, right, what you need to do is pass it on to your relief, be very discreet about it. Don't make it common knowledge. For which I went, OK, no worries. And then at seven o'clock in the morning, I concluded my shift and I left. Nothing more. Nothing more was said about it. I heard nothing more about this case. Until now.
That was Four Corners last night, Nikola Anderson says she was not contacted by police until last week, two years after the alleged incident. Back to you. Simon Birmingham, can you believe the delay that she's been wondering for two years whatever happened to that young lady and she only received a phone call last week?
Simon Birmingham: Well Ben, the ACT police and federal police had discussions with Brittany Higgins in the days or weeks following the incident. As a result of those discussions they were having at the time, they didn't proceed to a formal investigation at that stage. What I welcome is the fact that Brittany Higgins has made a formal statement to ACT police in more recent times that they have launched now a formal investigation. And I understand they have been in touch with that security guard and no doubt others to undertake the type of investigation necessary which the government will give full cooperation to because we want to see an alleged rapist investigated, prosecuted and if guilty, sentenced.
Ben Fordham: There's also reports that prostitutes have been brought into Parliament House to visit MPs and the prayer room has been used for intimate activities. It sounds like the whole joint needs a deep clean.
Simon Birmingham: Well, it's early needs change so that those who do the wrong thing and think they can get away with it know that they in the future, that it won't be tolerated and that they won't get away with it and that those who do the right thing are supported to call out anybody who is doing the wrong thing. And that's exactly why we're working with the Sex Discrimination Commissioner. And I can assure you and your listeners and the Prime Minister is disgusted and appalled by the things he's seen and heard as am I, as is the Minister for Women and indeed all members of the government's leadership. And we are determined to change it so that we can actually attract the best and brightest to work in this place. And they can work it with pride rather than shame.
Ben Fordham: Yeah, agreed. What we've seen and heard is just disgusting. We appreciate your time this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Ben. Thanks for the opportunity.