Joint press conference – Parliament House
Subjects: Respect@Work Legislation; National Anti-Corruption Commission; Bell Inquiry; Scott Morrison; energy; cost of living; RBA; ASIO; National Cabinet.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon. My Government is very pleased that the Respect@Work legislation has now passed the Parliament. This is one of the key commitments that we made during the Federal election campaign. My Government believes in gender equality. And with this legislation, combined with the cheaper child care legislation, the commitment to Paid Parental Leave expansion, the changes to the Fair Work Act that will put gender equality as one of the objectives of the Act, the changes that will flow from, particularly, lower-paid feminised industries in terms of lifting their wages. This is an important reform.
The new laws will place a positive duty on employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and victimisation as far as possible. It will strengthen the Australian Human Rights Commission, with new functions to assess and enforce compliance with this new requirement, including the capacity to give compliance notices to employers who are not meeting their obligations. It expressly prohibits conduct that results in a hostile workplace environment on the basis of gender. And it will ensure that Commonwealth public sector organisations are also required to report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency on its gender equality indicators. Everyone in this building will remember that, two years ago, women marched for justice. They gathered in their thousands outside this building. They gathered to say, 'Enough is enough'. They gathered to say that this was an issue that we needed to address. The Jenkins Report was an important report. I pay tribute to all those who came forward and gave evidence to that inquiry. And to Kate Jenkins, in her report, deserves a great deal of credit. That report didn't even receive a response from the former Government for more than a year. My Government has acted. Today, the Parliament has legislated. And I thank them for it. The Attorney-General will make some comments on this, and also on the National Anti-Corruption Commission legislation before we take some questions. Mark?
MARK DREYFUS, ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much, Prime Minister. Sexual harassment is not inevitable. It is preventable. This is historic legislation that has passed through the Australian Parliament today. It significantly progresses gender equality in Australian workplaces. It ensures that women are able to earn a living in safe and respectful workplaces. Like the Prime Minister, I record the thanks of this Parliament and the whole community. To Kate Jenkins, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, for her work. To all of those who assisted her in her inquiry, who came forward to tell her about their shocking experiences in Australian workplaces, we hope that this is a real step forward. This is legislation that very closely follows the recommendations of the Respect@Work report. And I'm looking forward to its implementation.
On the National Anti-Corruption Commission bills which are now before the Senate, it was a great day when they passed through the House of Representatives last Thursday. The Government is still intending that these bills pass through the Parliament this year - that means this week - so that we can get on with the job of implementing the National Anti-Corruption Commission that is so long overdue. Regrettably, I have to say that the Liberal Party has introduced amendments in the Senate just now. One of those amendments is one which would create an effective veto on the establishment of the National Anti-Corruption Commission. The Government will not be supporting that amendment. And, indeed, I would call on the Liberal Party to withdraw that amendment. I would call on the Liberal Party to support the establishment of a National Anti-Corruption Commission. And let's get on with this task that the Australian people voted for at the last election.
PRIME MINISTER: Before I take questions, I just want to pay tribute to Katy Gallagher, as our Minister for the Status of Women, for the work that she's done. It was intended she would join us at this press conference, but the Senate doesn't quite work that way sometimes.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Cabinet met this morning. Have you made a decision on your response to the Bell Report regarding Mr Morrison?
PRIME MINISTER: We have. The Cabinet this morning has endorsed all six recommendations of the Bell Inquiry. These are serious recommendations going forward. We will introduce legislation later this week to make sure that this can never, ever happen again. And this week, as well, the House will be moving a censure motion in the Member for Cook as a result of the findings of Virginia Bell and the inquiry, which found that the actions of the former Prime Minister fundamentally undermined the principles of responsible government, because the former Prime Minister wasn't responsible to the Parliament - and through the Parliament to the electors - to the departments that he was appointed to administer. And that had real consequences of acting to undermine public confidence in government and were corrosive of trust in government.
I note the rather extraordinary comments by the Manager of Opposition Business, who has said that the issue of the relationship between the former PM and his Ministers is a matter for them. This wasn't about a relationship between the former Prime Minister and his Ministers. It's not a personal relationship between two mates over what happened down the pub. This is about accountability of our democratic system, and whether the Parliament was functioning properly and about the relationship between the Prime Minister and the people of Australia, who expect to be held to account through our parliamentary processes.
JOURNALIST: Have senior Ministers agreed to put a cap on coal and gas prices for domestic sales?
PRIME MINISTER: No.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, will you be moving the motion personally?
PRIME MINISTER: We haven't made decisions on that, but I would expect that the motion will be moved by either the Leader of the House or the Attorney-General.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the Bell review legislation, you're going to introduce it this week, but are you expecting to pass before the end of the year?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We'll be introducing legislation later this week to amend the Ministers of State Act 1952 to give effect to the first recommendations of Virginia Bell's report.
JOURNALIST: Do you expect this to pass this week?
PRIME MINISTER: We'll wait and see what the business is in terms of whether there's time for it to pass or not. Can I indicate as well that there’s regulatory changes and the instructions in the recommendations I have made already, through the Secretary of my Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, has Cabinet made a decision on what to do on energy? If not, the response that you're looking at, do you have an expectation it can make a dent on the budget predictions of a 50 per cent increase in power bills and 40 per cent on a gas?
PRIME MINISTER: Cabinet has not made decision. We had another discussion of it. We're working these issues through, as we will have to, as well, with other jurisdictions. We have said that our time frame is before Christmas, and that remains our time frame. And the objective here is to, yes, make a difference compared with the projections that were made at Budget time.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Philip Lowe has just said sorry to the Australians for saying that he wouldn't increase interest rates by 2024. Are Australians supposed to just accept this apology and move on? Why shouldn't Philip Lowe resign as Governor of the Reserve Bank, given he's increased cost of living pressures to so many Australians?
PRIME MINISTER: We have confidence in Dr Lowe and his position as the head of the Reserve Bank.
JOURNALIST: Is that the right response from him to apologise? Should he have gone further?
PRIME MINISTER: That's a matter for him. I do note that he has taken that action. But it's not up to me, as Prime Minister, to give an ongoing, running commentary on the actions of the Secretary of the Reserve Bank.
JOURNALIST: You were asked a moment ago about energy. Obviously there's been a lot of debate about what to do about gas supply and gas price. Does the Cabinet consideration also canvas what to do about coal supply and coal price, given that coal prices are going to be a big factor in those electricity price hikes?
PRIME MINISTER: I'm not going to comment on the deliberations of Cabinet, as you would expect. But what I've said publicly before is what we are doing, which is looking at the impact not just on businesses, but also on households, of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has meant that this is a global issue. We are seeing global energy prices rise. And we're seeing governments being prepared to take action globally, whether that be in the United Kingdom or other countries, are all taking action. Action that perhaps wouldn't have been contemplated in what would be normal circumstances. I've said that we are prepared to take action. And I've given a time frame for that.
JOURNALIST: On the new grouping that's going to be examining welfare and support payments, you've said that that will be led by the Treasurer and Social Services Minister. Will they have actual input into the work of the group? And I note today they've said that will consist of 12 members. How soon will we find out who the people are on that?
PRIME MINISTER: That will be up to 12 members, is the establishment of the committee. And they'll be appointed by the Social Services Minister and the Treasurer jointly. There'll be a Chair and up to 12 members of the committee. And the committee will be able to interact with the Treasury, with the Social Services Department, with the Finance Department as well. And we will have access to that level of expertise.
JOURNALIST: Will Ministers be able to direct the group or have any say regarding their findings?
PRIME MINISTER: No. The idea here is that the findings will be made by the group. Governments will then make a decision. This is an advisory group to Government. But, of course, just like there's interaction between Ministers and other statutory bodies, there will be interaction. But it will be able to make its own decisions going forward.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned a Christmas deadline for presenting a possible solution to the energy crisis. If there's any legislative requirements out of that solution, do you have a deadline for when you would like those to be passed in the New Year? How soon can Australians expect to see a difference in their power bills as a result of whatever's announced over the next few weeks?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we will deal with it appropriately. We have a sense of urgency. But we also have the sense of making sure that we get it right and get the detail right. These issues are not simple because of the different ownership structures, because of the different sources of energy, because of different powers that exist between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments, because of the interaction of the national energy market. These are complex issues. We are working them through. We want to make sure that we do make a difference. We have been meeting with companies as well as departmental resources being used around the clock. People are working very hard on these issues. We've been meeting with the manufacturing sector as well.
JOURNALIST: Can I get your response on ASIO lowering Australia's national terrorism threat level from 'Probable' to 'Possible'? And what do you say to some Australians in communities like Western Sydney in particular about the risk of some of those Australians that were repatriated from Syria?
PRIME MINISTER: I'd say that I have absolute confidence in our security agencies. This is a decision for them. I won't second-guess them and I won't comment on their behalf.
JOURNALIST: You've mentioned a couple of times in your answers about the energy deliberation, that it requires a discussion with the states because of the way the energy market is constituted. Unless I'm wrong, there's a meeting of state ministers next week. Is that your timeline for trying to resolve this?
PRIME MINISTER: There's a meeting with the National Cabinet. We'll be meeting on the 7th of December. And I, as usual, will be having a discussion with state premiers together on the 6th of December. But even before then, I'm continuing to have discussions with my friends, the state premiers and chief ministers.