Television Interview with Natalie Barr – Sunrise – Friday 16 June 2023

FRIDAY, 16 JUNE 2023

SUBJECTS: Senate allegations

NATALIE BARR: Well, former Liberal National Party Senator Amanda Stoker has accused her former colleague, Senator David Van of inappropriately touching her at a social event in 2020. It comes after Van was also accused of sexual assault by independent Senator Lidia Thorpe while under parliamentary privilege, a claim he has vehemently denied. Opposition leader Peter Dutton has now kicked Senator Van out of the Liberal party room. Let’s bring in Education Minister Jason Clare and Deputy Liberal Leader Sussan Ley. Good morning to both of you.


BARR: We have now had a Senator and a former Senator say they chose to handle these alleged incidents internally. Sussan, if the message is go to the police, then what is it about the culture at Parliament House that sees people choose not to?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, can I say, Nat, for people both inside this building and outside, these are very difficult issues and help is available on 1800-Respect, or if you are in Parliament House, in our workplace, there’s an independent parliamentary support service which has been set up recently and which is doing outstanding work. Now, I don’t want Australians anywhere to feel that they can’t speak up if they’ve been harassed. It’s just so important. But Nat, I also want people to know, people who are watching at home, that there are incredible people in this building on both sides of the aisle, doing amazing work, working for the greater good. And overwhelmingly, that’s what I see when I come to work every day. However, we can always do better and we must always strive to address the issues that you’ve spoken of and we’ve spoken of this week.

BARR: Okay, Jason, let’s go through this. In 2020, there was a sexual assault allegation. A year later, another one. Then someone was moved offices. Now a possible third Liberal MP has had – a second Liberal MP has had a sexual assault allegation. Why was the alleged perpetrator only stood aside yesterday?

CLARE: Nat, that’s probably a question that Sussan might be able to answer better than I can. Certainly, if you’ve been watching the TV over the last few days, you’d think this place is a cesspit and that nothing’s changed. I do think that things have changed. I agree with Sussan that we have seen improvements here, but it shouldn’t just rely on the bravery of women to come forward. Men have got to change their behaviour as well. If female Members of Parliament don’t feel safe in this building, then that tells you that we still have a problem and that there are further changes that need to be made. My reading of the last few days is that Senator Thorpe made an allegation in the Senate and that’s prompted other, or former, Members of Parliament to make complaints to the Opposition Leader and to, I suspect, Sussan as part of the leadership team over the last 24 hours as well. That’s prompted the Coalition to act and refer this to the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service. That’s the right thing to do and we will await their investigation.

BARR: Sussan, two of these are Liberal women. Why are we only hearing about this now? Has this been swept under the carpet while you were in government?

LEY: No, Nat, and I won’t comment on the accuracy or otherwise of the individual allegations. You’ll appreciate it’s not appropriate to do that. But Peter Dutton heard these issues, he made inquiries, he acted accordingly. That’s a strong demonstration of his leadership when it comes to these matters –

BARR: Only now, when it was forced on him.

LEY: The Senator has been removed from the Liberal Party room.

BARR: Only now when it was forced on him. You are supposed to be the best of us. You are supposed to be representing us. You are supposed to be running this country. And from out here it looks like a cesspool.

LEY: Sometimes issues don’t become known until well after the issues occurred.

BARR: They were known.

LEY: -and that is because a multiple of factors.

BARR: They were reported. Amanda Stoker reported it. It was very clear. She did not hide this, by the sound of it, from what she said.

LEY: Nat, I’m not going to go into the details of who said what and under what circumstances, except to say that once this became known to our leadership, Peter Dutton acted accordingly. And that was entirely appropriate. And his actions have been endorsed by all of our party and I know indeed many Australians. It is always difficult for women to come forward. That’s a general comment that I also want to make. It is always difficult to step up and talk about things that have happened, and workplaces do have to improve. Let’s wait for the Parliamentary Workplace Support Service to do its work. Let’s wait for these issues to be ventilated as they should be.

BARR: Okay, thank you both. We’ll see you next week.