The West Live with Ben O’Shea 04/03/2021
“Labour Senator: Porter’s Press Conference Made Me Sick”
BEN O’SHEA: Attorney General Christian Porter outed himself yesterday as the cabinet minister at the centre of a historical rape allegation. The admission didn’t exactly rock federal parliament but that’s only because it was the worst kept secret in Canberra. Federal Senator Sue Lines wrote an opinion piece in the Western Australian on the weekend on the issue before Porter’s name was attached to it and she joins me now. Good morning senator.
SENATOR SUE LINES: Good morning Ben. How are you?
BEN O’SHEA: Yeah, very well thank you. Now, in your opinion piece you wrote that this rape allegation made you feel sick in the stomach. How do you feel now after watching Christian Porter’s press conference yesterday?
SENATOR SUE LINES: Well the sick feeling hasn’t gone away, Ben, because, um, there’s an opportunity for the Prime Minister to really create a new higher standard here, and he failed to do that. I mean, this matter needs to be fully investigated and it isn’t going to go away. Um and it can’t be the kind of media conference that we saw yesterday which yes of course was harrowing for Christian Porter. It isn’t the way which we should conduct this matter. It’s a serious matter and it needs to be investigated fully and quite frankly the Prime Minister has got questions to answer here and that opportunity for him to step up and to create a new higher standard is open to him but he really does need to move in the next day or two.
BEN O’SHEA: Mm, well the attorney general categorically denied the allegations. The NSW police have closed their investigations into the matter. Shouldn’t that just be the end of it?
SENATOR SUE LINES: Well I’m not talking, and neither is our leader Anthony Albanese talking about a police enquiry. We’ve moved on from that. We understand what the police have done, rightly or wrongly, but we’re politicians and the public is entitled to hold us to a high standard. I expect to be held to be held to a high standard and if I faulter there needs to be a clear process established for clearing my name or how we move forward, and we haven’t got that. We have the first law leader of the land accused of very, very serious crimes to which he’s denied but it isn’t going to go away and what we don’t want to see is this matter continue to be discussed in the media and it could well be discussed under parliamentary privilege when the parliament goes back in a week or so. That’s not fair to anyone. It’s not fair to the woman who’s passed, her family and indeed it’s not fair to anyone that stands accused. That’s why we need an independent enquiry that is open and transparent that we can get – so the Australian public can have some sense that the parliament is taking this matter seriously and that we are looking at ways to resolve these issues.
BEN O’SHEA: Well Christian Porter seemed to spend at least a third of his press conference yesterday referring to an incident - an allegation - that was levelled at former opposition leader Bill Shorten and there was no independent enquiry after that. Is this different?
SENAOTR SUE LINES: I believe so. In the Shorten matter, that matter was investigated by the police and the police dealt with that matter for about 10 months. We’ve seen in the Justice Hayden matter that an independent enquiry was set up. I mean, we need to do a number of very urgent things in the parliament. We need to establish a process that’s open and transparent so that when allegations are made against staff or indeed MPs and senators, that everyone understands what the process is. We ungently need to address the culture around parliament house and certainly we are still dealing with the Miss Higgins matter and we are yet to see from the government – I appreciate they are working fairly hard on this – but we are yet to see a terms of reference to the enquiry which Mr Morrison reluctantly established after a bit of pressure. The main sign as he has done, to have not read the allegations and indeed when Mr Porter responded yesterday, he had not read the allegations either, is just not good enough because this is a slur on me too, Ben. It’s a slur on all of us. I want to work in a workplace that’s free of misogynist behaviour, where women can come to work and enjoy their jobs – their dream jobs – and just to the work that they’re employed to do without fear of what might happen to them if they go for a beer after work.
BEN O’SHEA: Well PM Scott Morrison has said this morning that mob justice could undermine democracy in response to what has been said about Christian Porter, both when he was not named around this allegation and after his press conference yesterday and Scomo’s words were “terrible things could happen if the rule of law wasn’t respected in this country. What do you make of that?
SENATOR SUE LINES: I think, again, it is so typical of this government to stick with a point of view that no one else fought. The whole allegation around Miss Higgins was handled incredibly badly and there is still a lot of questions to be answered and the Prime Minister of the country really set a very low standard when he stood up in the media and said “y’know Jen told me and as the father of girls.” He had to be dragged to an independent enquiry and now they’ve consistently hidden behind the fact of a police enquiry or an ongoing police enquiry or an upcoming police enquiry. The police enquiry in relation to Christian Porter isn’t going to happen. It doesn’t mean that the attorney general’s name is cleared. It doesn’t give justice to the family. There needs to be an intense, independent enquiry. I’m sure he didn’t call the Justice Hayden enquiry ‘mob democracy.’ Mob democracy is what will happen if this matter is allowed to fester and be dragged through the media and under parliamentary privilege. That’s what will happen, and an independent enquiry will close off the matter so that people will have something else to focus on and to work towards.
BEN O’SHEA: Well, you’ve raised the possibility of parliamentary privilege being used in this situation and it could be used to air further details of the allegations made against Mr Porter. Is this a strategy Labor are considering?
SENATOR SUE LINES: Oh, absolutely not. We have never done that. We have been intent in relation to Ms Higgins in establishing a clear process – who knew what when? – and our response will be the same in relation to Mr Porter. Anthony Albanese, our leader, has been very clear about the need for an independent investigation. We are working very hard at the moment, with the government, to establish a current investigation and we will keep pushing for a second one. We won’t be airing those matters in the parliament. We are not the only party in the parliament. There are others who will have a vested interest, who will want to air some of these shocking allegations which quite frankly in my view should not be aired.
BEN O’SHEA: Mm, and what damage do you think that would do both to Mr Porter himself, the office of the Attorney General and the public’s perception of federal parliament?
SENATOR SUE LINES: Well it won’t help the public’s perception of the federal parliament. The prime minister has an opportunity to set a higher standard here, to say this matter will be investigated fully, it will be an investigation that’s set up and established by the parliament, not the Prime Minister’s office. It will be open and transparent. That is the only way that we can deal with this matter and then the other committee, which is the other investigation around the Miss Higgins matter, which in my view and in Labor’s view must include a process for dealing with future allegations. Then we’ve got a clear process and people will understand that okay if a shocking thing happens then the police are involved but the parliament will also, and this will be expected. At the very least I think Mr Porter should stand aside for the moment.
BEN O’SHEA: Mm, well the South Australian Police are still looking into the death of the alleged victim and haven’t ruled out a coronial inquiry. What impact do you think that has on the decision for Mr Porter not to stand aside?
SENATOR SUE LINES: Well as I understand that enquiry then, it is around the circumstances of the woman’s death, so it won’t necessarily go to the heart of the allegations that are made on the periphery. I don’t think that has a particular bearing on Mr Porter. I might be a bit naïve there, I am not a law officer or a lawyer so I will leave that to them but clearly the parliament needs to set a standard and if we haven’t learnt that by listening to public opinion, by talking to people, then we are just being dense to reality, quite frankly.
BEN O’SHEA: Talking about tone deaf, we saw in the news today that defence minister Linda Reynolds had referred to the alleged rape victim Miss Higgins as ‘a lying cow’. What did you make of that?
SENATOR SUE LINES: That is an unacceptable comment if that comment was made by Linda Reynolds but…
BEN O’SHEA: She said she did make it, but she wasn’t referring to the allegations, she was referring to some of the media speculation that had come out afterwards.
SENATOR SUE LINES: Yes, well it is a very confusing statement to make to call someone such a derogatory term and then to say they’re believed. I mean I think what Labor wants Linda Reynolds to do is to come into the parliament and make a full statement about a whole range of matters including this. I mean it’s really on Linda Reynolds to explain herself fully on that. I understand she’s still on sick leave, so I think we wait until she’s fit and well and back in the parliament. But really, from day one, not only has the Prime Minister massively misstepped in the Miss Higgins matters, so has Senator Reynolds and both of them have to actually clear this up and Linda Reynolds needs to be held accountable for that comment.
BEN O’SHEA: Well, she’s on sick leave. Porter has now got a couple of weeks off to, I guess have some mental health care as well. We might not have Liberal cabinet ministers even up and about. Now, based on what we’ve seen and what we’ve talked about today, can you in good conscience recommend federal parliament as a career choice for young women?
SENATOR SUE LINES: I can, Ben. I do honestly – and I say this a lot – it is a privilege to be a member of parliament. There’s no question about that. The opportunities available to members and senators to represent the interests of their constituency is something that in and of itself is a privilege. But with privilege comes a responsibility to act in a proper way, to hold yourself to account, to be accountable. So yes, I would recommend it because what we do need is more women in the parliament. That in and of itself will change the culture. It is still a very male culture with not just male members of parliament, it’s male staffers, male lobbyists. When you go to the federal parliament as a woman, you are very much in the minority, not in the Labor Party but in the senate. I am so privileged to be with a whole range of senators, including 60% on the Labor side who are women and our party is almost at 50%. It makes a difference, so we do need to encourage more young women in and it’s certainly a career worth considering.
BEN O’SHEA: Mm and some culture change hopefully in the future.
SENATOR SUE LINES: Yes, definitely and I definitely want to be a part of
BEN O’SHEA: Federal Labor senator Sue Lines, thanks for your time today. There will be plenty of discussion about this for some time to come.
SENATOR SUE LINES: Thanks Ben. Thank you.