Transcript from ABC Riverina Breakfast (with Simon Wallace) – Topics; treatment of women in Parliament House, gender equality. NB this is one of a number of interviews by Sussan on this topic which you can view here.     

SIMON WALLACE: I think most of us have been bewildered by what we’ve heard about Parliament House recently. And the Liberal Member for Farrer, Sussan Ley, says she’s bewildered, sickened, and disgusted when she heard reports of Liberal staffers reporting lewd sex acts in Parliament House. So, what now? Where to from here? Sussan Ley joins us. Sussan Ley, good morning.

SUSSAN LEY: Good morning Simon and good morning to your listeners.

SIMON WALLACE: Did you have similar feelings when you heard about the alleged rape in a Minister’s office?

SUSSAN LEY: Yes, I did. And it came on the back of, you know, a series of really- allegations of poor behaviour. There’s been quite a difficult conversation that many of us have had in this building, but it’s been positive overall, particularly as we turn the corner. I’m sounding a bit bewildered as I talk to you because it’s hard to sometimes explain just how shocked we have been inside this building. And my thoughts were for my staff, for the staff in the building overall. They do an amazing job. They don’t deserve to be tarred with some of the brushes that we’ve seen. They don’t want to be seen as victims. One of my staff said that yesterday. They’re incredible professionals. But more particularly and more broadly, Simon, I think of all of the workplaces across Australia where women are counting on us to make a difference. So, it’s not just about us. We want to be an exemplary workplace and we need to be and we need to change, but we also need to lead the way for women who are experiencing some tough circumstances in their workplaces across the country.

SIMON WALLACE: What are your constituents telling you about how they feel about the workplace culture in Parliament House? I mean, you’ve been a shearers’ cook, you’ve worked in environments that were pretty manly, but this is- what’s come out is just bizarre now.

SUSSAN LEY: It’s bizarre, it’s unacceptable and it has to change and we have to use these events as a catalyst for change, and that will happen. So that’s the corner we’ve turned in my mind and the positive feeling that I’m taking from all of these dreadful events and allegations. That is the most important thing because it isn’t just about us, and I don’t ever get political about this subject because if you get political you immediately make it about politics and not about the women who, as I said, are counting on you. My constituents are telling me a range of things because they come from a range of different backgrounds, but actually no one knows what it’s like to work in Parliament House until you’ve been here. And you know, I’m defensive of this workplace. I love it. I’ve been coming here for nearly 20 years and it is, when it works well, an amazing place where really bad things have happened and have happened recently. We have to fix that. It’s incumbent on us all in here to fix that.

SIMON WALLACE: You’ve said in your mind you’ve turned a corner. What can be done? What will be done?

SUSSAN LEY: Everyone has to play their part in changing the culture. So, when you come into an organisation you tend to accept the culture. I mean, you think, okay, this is a bit unusual but this is obviously how things are done here, the culture in office, the culture in a party, the culture in the parliament. Some of that culture is built on disrespect and I’ve never liked that and I’ve tried not to play that myself. But I’ve said this week we need to all lift our eyes and we need to say respect each other. It’s not always about women and men, it’s just people. I’ve seen some pretty disrespectful interactions between men and men and women and women. So, let’s do better. And for the culture to change when it’s sort of been set, because politics tends to do that, it will take every person. So that’s the generational change if you like that I’m feeling that we can have in this building right now. But most importantly, everyone does have to play their part.

SIMON WALLACE: You’re on ABC Riverina. It’s just coming up to 20 minutes away from 8 o’clock. We’re speaking with Sussan Ley, the Federal Member for Farrer. Sussan Ley, the Prime Minister’s emotional speech on the topic yesterday has received mixed reviews. Some say he gets it now and he’s listening to women; others say he ruined it by airing rumours of a sexual assault in the media industry. What would you say about that performance?

SUSSAN LEY: He’s apologised for that and that means that those that are criticising that small aspect of a very big day, we can all move on. What I took from that speech was genuine heartfelt recognition that he has now heard the voices of many women both inside and outside this building, that he does want us all to be part of change. And that for many listening was very refreshing because too often something happens and it’s all about: how do you get past this and out the other side and back to business as usual? So, that’s what we don’t want to see and that’s what many of the women in the Parliament including me are saying we can’t afford to do. This time we have to do things differently.

Look, I’ve known the Prime Minister for many years. He was in the New South Wales Division and came to my very first preselection. So, I know him well and have many conversations with him about these issues and I represent the Minister for Women in the House of Representatives during Question Time. I know that he is genuine in his desire for change. His concern about we all have to do this and how we can all be part of it is a concern I share because it does require a lot of people to do things differently and to step up and to call out behaviour that they might otherwise have just ignored. So, just because they hear and see things that don’t impact them directly, they often don’t call it out because it’s not about them. But we have to do things differently. So where we see that disrespect, particularly towards women, we have to say something.

SIMON WALLACE: What does it say about the workings of the party, though, when the Prime Minister now brings up a rumour of a sexual assault in the media industry and yet was not made aware of an alleged rape back in 2019?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, he answered that. He apologised for his remarks yesterday and he’s been very clear about when he found out about the alleged rape, and he’s also been very clear about the fact that he wasn’t happy that it wasn’t brought to his attention earlier. So, I mean, those points have been well made. Every time we focus on the detail of what’s been said and what circumstances they were said under, I think we miss an opportunity to talk about the broader issue and, as I said, the catalyst for change that we see coming from yesterday. So, look, it’s been a tough few weeks, but it’s not about us and how tough it’s been for us. It’s about what we can do in the national Parliament to number one, be an exemplary workplace, to shine a light on the dark corners of behaviour that need to be called out, but to support women across Australia in all of the circumstances they find themselves. Because it’s very tough for women in the workplace, particularly when they have caring responsibilities and there just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day; women who are farming partners. And, you know, I will never say, oh look at me and my busy life because I know how busy and sometimes challenging the people’s lives are that I represent.

SIMON WALLACE: As you mentioned, you’ve been in Parliament nearly 20 years; has the culture towards women deteriorated or has it always been like this?

SUSSAN LEY: It hasn’t deteriorated and I think, overall, it’s improved but it hasn’t improved enough and the one thing that I’ve learned from these events, Simon, is that what was explicit, which was you know things you heard directly or might have been shouted across the room – that was certainly the case when I went into the workforce. Sexism was quite obvious, was there for all to see. The fact that it’s not seen now doesn’t mean it’s not there. So, what I’ve learned, particularly from the younger women in this building and the young women in my life, is that doesn’t mean because you don’t see it and hear it directly that it’s not happening. So there’s a whole attitudinal change that I think has been underway, but we do need to do better. And we do need to believe and listen to people’s experiences. So if young women in this building say, well, I don’t like the way I’m made to feel in a situation, the answer is, well, then that case there is a problem.

SIMON WALLACE: We’ve had a caller through from [indistinct] and just asked, when they looked at that, the protest in Canberra. He says the women who gathered outside Parliament House, he couldn’t pick one Liberal-National Party member. Was it- were you told not to go to that or it’s a decision you made?

SUSSAN LEY: No, many Liberal-National Party women and men went to the protest. As a cabinet minister, I didn’t but I didn’t need to go to the protest to know how strong the feelings were of those who did. And, for example, I met with the Women’s Legal Service that week, they were here for the protest and I asked them to update me on what’s happening in the court system when it comes to sexual violence, which is very much a subject of the protest. And I also know, Simon, there were many women who couldn’t go to the protest because they couldn’t get there, but they want us to be there for them. And so I saw that as a symbolic moment for the Parliament. I was proud of the women who stood up on that day. And I just refuse to be political about this.

SIMON WALLACE: There could be an election this year. Will you be seeking to make it 24 years in Parliament or will you be stepping away?

SUSSAN LEY: The Prime Minister has said there won’t be an election this year. The election is due in the first quarter of next year and I have to pass a pre-selection in my own party. So they have to choose me as a candidate and then the electorate has to choose me as their representative. If both those happen, and I hope they do, then I will be back after the next election. But in politics, you don’t take anything for granted because you’re here at the will of the people who choose you.

SIMON WALLACE: The state Member for Murray, Helen Dalton, has told ABC Riverina she’s considering a tilt at Farrer at the next federal election. She has experience at unseating a sitting MP. Does that worry you?

SUSSAN LEY: Look, everyone should feel free to put their name forward and I’ve always said I welcome all who do because that’s part of our democratic process. I think some people might be a little surprised that Helen has sort of thrown in the towel in state politics only halfway through the term and the issues that she spoke about, I think, on your program are actually all state government issues.

SIMON WALLACE: Sussan Ley, thank you for speaking with us. But one more thing – what would you say to a young woman looking at politics.

SUSSAN LEY: Please look closely and carefully, and I’m glad you asked that, Simon, because really that is the most important thing out of this. We want more women in our ranks, and we don’t want them to be discouraged and please just talk to us and if you’re thinking about it, probably means you’d be pretty good at it once you got here.

SIMON WALLACE: And do they need senior women, not saying you’re a senior woman, Sussan Ley, but you know what I mean. Somebody with experience in the position to do more now. And now’s really the time that you can make paths for this to happen.

SUSSAN LEY: Of course. Of course, we do. And so I’m taking this very seriously. As I said, it’s about what we do now and we’re going to get very busy doing it to support women coming into this workplace and to make this workplace a better and more suitable place for women.

SIMON WALLAE: Thanks for speaking with us this morning.

SUSSAN LEY: It’s a pleasure.