Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Tuesday, 30 November 2021
Simon Birmingham: Good afternoon, Raf. Good to be with you.
Raf Epstein: Good to have you. I should explain to everyone, we lose you at precisely 5:30. You've got another ABC commitment. How did you feel reading and looking at that report?
Simon Birmingham: Raf there are parts of the report that are quite distressing and clearly highlight experiences that individuals have had, which are thoroughly unacceptable in any workplace. I am full of admiration for those who have come forward, a handful of whose identity is publicly known, but many, many more who were who engaged in this process. And I'm pleased that the fact that the process we put in place had sufficient trust across people from all political persuasions to engage in it as openly as they did.
Raf Epstein: One in three people participating reporting sexual harassment. Did that surprise you? One in three?
Simon Birmingham: So around 23 per cent of parliamentary staff responded to a survey and of those it identified that rate of individuals who had seen harassment. Look, I don't know whether it's surprised me or not. It clearly disappointed me. And it is a practise that we have to change. It is a practise where we have to make sure that the culture changes first and that then the standards and processes that are in place there help to drive and to reinforce that cultural change.
Raf Epstein: Some of your coalition colleagues were accused of making dog noise as while Jacqui Lambie was speaking from the footage. It looks like you were closer to that than Labor's Penny Wong, she says. She heard it, did you?
Simon Birmingham: No, I didn't Raf. But I have asked the government whip to try to look into if it's possible to identify if it occurred and if it occurred who was responsible. And if that was the case, then they should really apologise and make sure they reflect on their behaviour and do far better in future.
Raf Epstein: Just thoroughly depressing is, I mean, surely I mean, you don't think Sarah Hanson-Young, Penny Wong are making that up do you?
Simon Birmingham: No, I'm not accusing anybody of that, but nor do I have the ability to identify at present who that necessarily was. Now, as I said, they ought to apologise to Jackie and to the Senate. Ultimately, you know what we have to achieve here are changes. We've got a report today, a very important one that I hope can be the driver and the road map for change in the future. We haven't just sat on our hands through the course of this year, either. We've made sure that whilst this report was happening, we put in place new trauma informed support services for staff and others in the parliamentary workplace. New training for MPs and all staff in relation to workplace conduct and practises. And a new complaints process, including with independents and with accountability and transparency of the outcomes there. All of which have been very important reforms which this report we've received today from the Sex Discrimination Commissioner now seeks to build upon.
Raf Epstein: Isn't the big thing you need to do, change the power structure? MPs and senators have so much power over someone's employment. Don't you need to find a way to change that and give people also on top of that access to a proper human resources department that a lot of us are familiar with?
Simon Birmingham: So these are some of the recommendations that we will now proceed to working with the opposition, crossbench and others to act on. These aren't recommendations that relate just specifically to the government. So we have to, as we've done at every stage of this, engage with others. I consulted with the opposition on the review of the terms of reference, the timing-
Raf Epstein: If I can interrupt, Simon Birmingham. And I completely appreciate it's not a partisan issue. As a politician of long standing, though, do you think it's possible to take some of the hiring and firing away from the politicians?
Simon Birmingham: I think we can definitely do better and that the recommendations do provide a pathway to achieve that, particularly in relation to the type of steps around termination, if that becomes necessary. But right at the outset, better induction processes for MPs as employers, when your listeners vote for a member of Parliament, they're voting for a local community representative. But when that person is elected, they also then become an employer and we need to make sure that they have all the skills that go with being an employer to successfully manage the staff who are there to work alongside them in serving the community they've been elected to serve.
Raf Epstein: You've got another ABC program in less than 90 seconds, but briefly on your proposed anti-corruption watchdog, what you've proposed could not examine sports rorts and could not examine anonymous donations to a politician. Are you personally okay with that?
Simon Birmingham: Raf what we've proposed is something to clearly examine, instances of corruption or allegations of corrupt conduct and-.
Raf Epstein: -[indistinct] an online is very close to corruption, isn't it?
Simon Birmingham: We've outlined a very clear process in relation to that legislation. We've drafted it. We've published the legislation that's there for an independent integrity commission. We would be willing to pass that legislation if the opposition indicated support that would get it through the Parliament. It is responding to our commitment there. Importantly, in terms of the transparency of donations, that's something that the privileges committee of the Parliament provided a report on today, and they're clearly going to take further steps to make sure that that transparency is strengthened.
Raf Epstein: You don't want a corruption watchdog to look at something like anonymous donations, isn't that that seems obvious?
Simon Birmingham: Well, donation shouldn't be anonymous. Ralph, I think, is the tenor of the report from the privileges committee, and they're going to take the steps to make sure that's the case.
Raf Epstein: I appreciate your time and know it was a lot of moving around the actual building, Simon Birmingham and you made the appointment and you kept it. So I really appreciate that. Thank you.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Raf. Always happy too.