Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Wednesday, 24 March 2021
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Hello, everybody. I’m just going to touch briefly on two things. Firstly, can I say in relation to the ongoing flood situation across New South Wales, we understand many Australians are doing it incredibly tough right now and my heart goes out to them and all support that can be provided is being provided as is [indistinct]. The disaster relief payments have been activated and are flowing. ADF search and rescue facilities have been cooperating with NSW authorities and we anticipate further announcements in relation to Defence Force cooperation, particularly with the recovery efforts that will be expected in parts of NSW. And we will continue to work closely with and respond closely to the New South Wales government and help to meet their needs wherever we possibly can to meet the needs of those tragically flood affected communities.
In relation to revelations that were aired on Network 10 last night about activities and incidents that occurred in this building, those incidents and activities, are sickening, they’re disgusting. And the government has zero tolerance for anybody who's engaged in such gross disrespect to the parliament and to Australians by behaving in that way. We demonstrated immediate action through the dismissal of one employee who has been identified to date. And we will continue to work to identify anybody else who has been engaged in such gross lewd acts and shows such disrespect to this parliament and individuals should expect to face the same fate, to leave this building, to be dismissed or sacked if they have done the wrong thing in this regard. Now this goes to immediate responses. But of course, there is a broader responsibility that is necessary as well and underlines the crucial importance of the work that Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has been asked to do. To look at all aspects of parliamentary workplaces to make sure that this place, rather than having stain and shame put upon it, it sets an example for the Australian people. And that is exactly what the Prime Minister, myself, Minister Payne and the entire government are determined to do. To make sure that we give the maximum cooperation to the Kate Jenkins review, to put in place practices that change the culture in relation to this place. That ensures those doing the wrong thing understand that it won’t be accepted and that they will be called out, that there are support, reporting and investigatory mechanisms in place that people have confidence to come forward and respond to.
Lastly, just to direct some comments to indeed the many parliamentary staff coming to work here today. The vast majority of people who work in this building, be they labor, liberal, greens, independent, or whomever are good, hardworking people. The Members of Parliament and Senators, we rely upon good staff to come and work here. And I understand that many of them, will come in here today feeling a sense of embarrassment about appalling actions that have happened in this building. We know that the bulk of you are better than this, we support you and the reason we want to take such effective change in relation to this building are to set an example to all Australians to also make sure that we continue to attract some of the best and brightest in the country to come and work here.
JOURNALIST: On the Four Corners report the security guard who found Brittany Higgins that night in 2019 come forward, she said that no one had come and talked to her before this Four Corners [indistinct] recently. But why has no one contacted her, given she was the person who found Brittany and there are all these kind of inquiries going on?
BIRMINGHAM: As in known the ACT police engaged in the early stages, through conversations with Brittany Higgins and at that stage determined not to proceed with a formal investigation. Now we welcome very much the fact that Brittany Higgins has in recent times given a full statement to ACT police, we welcome that they are now undertaking a full investigation of these matters which I understand does involve discussions with that security officer, no doubt with others in relation to the investigation as well. And it is crucial that everyone lends full support to the ACT police so that they have a successful investigation that ideally and hopefully lead to the prosecution and hopefully conviction of the alleged rapist.
JOURNALIST: Why has no one in your Government contacted the security guard though?
BIRMINGHAM: The security guard remains in the employment of parliament, the appropriate people to talk to her about what she knows about the alleged rape that occurred are ACT police and my understanding is that is what they are doing.
JOURNALIST: Minister can I just ask you in relation to some of these images portrayed in this report last night. One of them involves the desk of a female Liberal MP. What support is being given to her given what is now coming out about [indistinct]?
BIRMINGHAM: There have been discussions had with that MP. And we have sent out to all MPs and Senators, all staff across the building as well, reminding them of the support and assistance services that are available. [Indistinct] for individuals to discuss serious incidents with. I urge and remind anybody to reach out and to use that service, to use the mental health and various other support services available. And to assure all that all senior members of the government are there to talk, to help and to direct people to assistance where possible.
JOURNALIST: Has anyone come forward so far are there to identify themselves as being involved in these allegations or provide information about others?
BIRMINGHAM: We will continue investigations, we acted swiftly last night when we were in a position to identify one individual who has been terminated and dismissed. We will take similar action with anybody else. I have reached out via this media to the whistle blower to make clear that the government will welcome cooperation from that interview to help us to identify any others engaged in such activities.
JOURNALIST: How did the culture get to this? We are seeing people being allegedly raped in Parliament House and now these lewd group messaging chat. How did it get this bad and no one knew?
BIRMINGHAM: Well, I think that these are some of the incidents that the independent review in the parliamentary workplace is going to have to grapple with in terms of how you change the [indistinct] culture. Now, the reason or one of the reasons why we chose the Sex Discrimination Commission Kate Jenkins was that she had done similar work or Australia's universities, for the Australian Defence Force and for other large organisations who had [indistinct] problems as well. But that is not in any way a step back from the fact that there are clearly problems amongst a group of individuals in this building and they must be stamped out. And people in future must have the maximum confidence possible that they can come forward and report any wrongdoing so that it will be thoroughly investigated.
JOURNALIST: What was the security breach that the [indistinct]?
BIRMINGHAM: The security officer in question wasn't doing anything wrong in terms of his meeting staff with passes into an office after hours. However, there are other security considerations in ministerial offices that are appropriately [indistinct] under the staff code of conduct that make clear coming into the office after hours, intoxicated, for non-work related purposes is not something that should be occurring. There are security considerations in relation to being in proximity to secure documents and other factors. Those considerations will have led to the termination of the individual in that matter.
JOURNALIST: Given that then should there be a ban on alcohol in the ministerial wing? If you're not allowed to be intoxicated why are you allowed to be drinking inside Parliament House?
BIRMINGHAM: The individuals had been drinking outside Parliament House beforehand.
JOURNALIST: But do you believe that there should be a ban in terms of cleaning up the culture? That that would be a way of showing that it's not acceptable, that that kind of thing can lead to these things happening?
BIRMINGHAM: Certainly nobody should be intoxicated in this building. It is not something that should be tolerated in any office.
JOURNALIST: Minister you have been around this place a long time. What is wrong with people? Given what we have seen in the last month. What is wrong with people?
BIRMINGHAM: The behaviour that has been disgusting and appalling and unfairly casts a shadow over the many good people as well. And that's why it's hard to tolerate. It won't be tolerated. It will be stamped out and we will do whatever it takes to stamp it out.
JOURNALIST: What is being done to investigate the allegations that sex workers have been brought into the building are you simply trying to talk to the whistle blower? Or are you looking through records? Is there anything else that is being done?
BIRMINGHAM: Similarly, we will investigate as far as we possibly can in terms of those who have any information that consists in this regard.
JOURNALIST: Minister, just one more on subs. The local supply agreement reached on the subs project between the parties involved. Given that this has been the most expensive and one of the most overrun projects [indistinct] Australian military [indistinct]?
BIRMINGHAM: I don't accept the characterisation at the end there. The work on the submarine program to establish the Attack Class is absolutely working to a schedule to get underway and to meet our future military capability. And delivery of those submarines is always many years away. An important part of all the work we're doing in establishing new military capability is to also build a defence industry in Australia. And the commitments that were made about having 60 per cent minimum Australian industry content in the field of the attack class submarines were crucial commitments. And I am very pleased that such significant progress is being made between Naval Group and the Department of Defence to make sure that is embedded in the overarching contracts around that program.
JOURNALIST: When are we going to see a submarine? This was a fifty billion dollar project, some 90 billion dollar project. Are we going to see the submarine combat project in this generation?
BIRMINGHAM: I think you heard plenty of evidence about the fact that the difference in figures cited relates to a number of factors around the timing of how you account for that and around other sustainment and related issues. The submarines remain on track in terms of their development and work commencing and delivery was always some years away and it remains some years away.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any information on who is alleged to have brought sex workers into the building and what will happen, for example, if it was an MP who has done that, what consequences will they face?
BIRMINGHAM: No, I don't have further information in that regard. Only what has been aired. But we are undertaking what investigations we can to try to elicit any sort of information in that regard and then respond to that appropriately. And that has to involve referral to the privileges committee or otherwise to take those steps.
JOURNALIST: But will you be responding if there are MPs involved or will you be leaving that to the Kate Jenkins review?
BIRMINGHAM: No, we are making sure that we investigate anything we possibly can in relation to the allegations that were aired. Nobody has been excluded from that. But of course, we can only act with the information that we have, at present they are pixelated images that are hard to identify individuals in within anonymous whistle blower. If we can get more information, then no doubt there will be dismissals.
JOURNALIST: Are you actively seeking out people to interview or you was relying on people to come forward?
BIRMINGHAM: Where we can talk to people and interview them and understand their knowledge then we certainly will.