Senate debates

Thursday, 18 March 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Members of Parliament: Staff

4:20 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business (Senator Cash) to a question without notice asked by Senator Waters today relating to members of parliament and their staff.

I asked Minister Cash about staff members who had been employed in her office who yesterday were revealed as having disgusting attitudes to women and frequently sharing those in the workplace. Folk might realise that yesterday there was an ABC article in which three Liberal staffers alleged that a particular Liberal staff member, a man, routinely subjected them to disgusting comments and generally displayed misogynistic behaviour. Last night, in the Tasmanian parliament, Greens leader Cassy O'Connor said that she believed that this was in fact the same man who had directed a vile slur to her while she was in the process of trying to give a press conference. It's very interesting that the problem males in the Liberal Party don't tend to get the sack until someone goes public with their disgusting behaviour. The behaviour is tolerated and swept under the carpet, and they're cycled through various offices rather than actually being attended to and sacked or, at the very least, trained and brought into this century rather than the 1950s, where they evidently belong.

We've had successive female staffers in this place raise concerns about these issues. What more do they have to do to be listened to? These staff members yesterday had to go to the media, and then they needed a member of parliament in a different parliament to use parliamentary privilege to identify this person before he was then asked to resign. And he was asked to resign; he wasn't sacked. He was asked to resign, which no doubt has implications for any sort of severance or payment package that he might get. Women keep raising these concerns, and so far it seems like the Liberal Party are doing sweet nothing about it until such time as the media spotlight is turned upon them. Brittany Higgins's alleged rapist was asked to leave. He wasn't fired. He also was asked to leave. He got a pretty well-paying job soon after, in some fancy lobbying firm. There were no consequences for him. Meanwhile, Ms Higgins, one of the bravest people that I've seen in recent years, had to take the difficult decision to choose her own personal safety ahead of any possibility of career advancement for her in the Liberal Party.

Andrew Hudgson, who was the staff member named by the Greens leader in the Tasmanian parliament yesterday, and who we understand is also the staff member about whose misogynistic treatment those three Liberal staff women were complaining, has been cycled around different offices. He started off in Minister Cash's office. He then got recycled into the Tasmanian parliament, and he came back in to work for Minister Sukkar. Honestly, does nobody do anything when female staffers raise concerns about sexist remarks and, worse, sexist behaviour in the workplace? This man was well known to have disgusting attitudes and to frequently give voice to them, and yet nothing was done. He just kept getting moved around. It seems like Minister Cash's office is the place you go when you might be a political problem for this government, whether you're a perpetrator or a victim-survivor. Do better, folks.

I'm glad that we now have the Jenkins review, and there is now going to be a hasty patch-up of a loophole that should have been non-existent in the first place. But it's deeply unsatisfactory that this government do nothing about sexism and misogyny until the media spotlight is on them. It's no surprise they don't have many women in their ranks, because their culture is well known. It's toxic, it's sexist and it's misogynistic. It is unsafe. So I'm very pleased that those female staff members, Ms Brittany Higgins and Ms Rachelle Miller, had the courage to come forward, but it shouldn't take media scrutiny to do the right thing. Clean up your own backyard.

The Prime Minister keeps trying to get off these issues, but he is sending the signal that not only does he not believe women and does he not realise rape is a problem until his wife tells him; but he will accept this sort of behaviour in the workplaces he presides over. We need leadership from the Prime Minister. He needs to say that this behaviour is not going to be tolerated in his party; otherwise, we'll see more and more media stories until the government finally gets the message that women have had enough.

Question agreed to.