Interview – ABC, 7.30

Leigh Sales, ABC
Interview discusses conduct in Parliament House.

Leigh Sales: Minister, thanks for your time tonight.

Karen Andrews: Pleasure.

Leigh Sales: You said in an interview earlier today that you've had an absolute gutful of the workplace culture in Parliament House. What specifically have you had a gutful of?

Karen Andrews: Look, I've had a gutful of a lot of things quite frankly. I've had a gutful of what has been uncovered in the last month or so here. I've had a gutful of disrespect for women over a number of years now, and I think it's a widespread cultural issue here in Parliament House. But it's also a widespread issue in many workplaces right across Australia.

Leigh Sales: What kind of disrespect do you personally think you've experienced in Parliament House?

Karen Andrews: Look, I guess that - to begin with when I first started, so I was elected just over 10 years ago, I was quite frankly horrified by what I was seeing with a pretty strong drinking, partying culture here in Parliament House. And I can recall having a conversation with my husband when I said to him, look, I'm never going to do anything to embarrass you while I'm here. And I made the decision that I would just not socialise. So I extracted myself from that situation and concentrated on what I was paid to do, which was my job here in Canberra. It is quite exclusive here in Canberra. It's not an inclusive environment for women. We work differently. We behave quite differently in Parliament. Some of that is clearly intentional, some of it is not, but the impact is that many women here do feel quite socially isolated. We aren't included in many of the discussions that happen, whether that be in relation to matters that are being debated, in my case in the House, or whether it's more broad discussions about policy issues, simply because we aren't in other people's offices socialising. Now, I think that the men in Parliament need to make sure that they are including women in those conversations. Now, is it deliberate? That's a question that I'm not sure that I can answer, but it is quite exclusive.

Leigh Sales: You also said earlier today that your conscience would no longer allow you to stay silent. What do you feel that you've had to stay silent about?

Karen Andrews: Look, I'm by nature a very cautious person and I like to be very clear on my facts before I do start to speak. The last month in particular has been horrendous for me, for many other people here in Parliament House. Now the last thing I would want to do when there's an allegation of rape is to be saying anything that would prejudice a potential police inquiry or the police inquiry that is now happening. So it meant that I needed to obviously be very mindful of what I might say, but quite frankly with the revelations of yesterday in relation to the behaviour of a number of male staffers here, it really just got to the point where I needed to say very clearly that I've had enough, that this is not appropriate behaviour. We do have a leadership role here in Canberra, in Parliament. We need to address our workplace issues here and they need to be addressed right across Australia.

Leigh Sales: Why does the indecent idiocy of some male staffers seem to have been the tipping point for a more outraged reaction among coalition MPs than the original story that started this, which was the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins in the Defence Minister's office?

Karen Andrews: I think that what has happened is that there have been issues festering for quite some time. I think the seriousness of the allegations that were made by Brittany Higgins were such that they made us all seriously think about whether or not we should be commenting on such a serious allegation. Now, obviously we were very, very concerned about the welfare of Brittany Higgins. We were very concerned about both our female and our male staff who had been affected by that particular, very significant, incident. What you've probably got now is the straw that broke the camel's back.

Leigh Sales: Has the Prime Minister failed to read the national mood on attitudes towards women?

Karen Andrews: I think that a lot of us have to take responsibility for reading or misreading the national mood on this. I've had a number of discussions with him, and I know the position that he's coming from. So I know that in his heart he has always been very supportive of women. He's acknowledged this morning that maybe he could have done things a little bit differently. I think that's probably fair comment but good on him for saying that.

Leigh Sales: Karen Andrews, thank you for your time this evening.

Karen Andrews: It's a pleasure. Take care, Leigh.