Thu, 18 Apr 2024 - 13:30



Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House




18 APRIL 2024

KIERAN GILBERT: Let's go live now to the shadow government services Minister, manager of opposition business, Paul Fletcher. You've heard some of the comments there from the minister. She said a young woman was raped, according to justice Lee and his judgement that she was asking appropriate questions in the face of that controversy. What's your reaction to those comments? 

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, we know that Senator Gallagher and Senator Wong were involved in the most outrageous, ferocious politicisation, all kinds of allegations being made about Senator Reynolds, who has been found, I'm pleased to say, to have conducted herself quite appropriately in providing support to her then staff member Brittany Higgins and, of course, her chief of staff, Fiona Brown, also found to have conducted herself quite appropriately. I think Justice Lee's decision has cast light usefully on this issue and pointed out that, number one, there was a complaint of a rape having occurred, and he has found, on the balance of probabilities, that rape did occur and so I think that is an appropriate judgement, I'm not going to second guess the judge's decision. But what it goes, I think, to demonstrate is that where somebody has been the victim of a sexual assault, that can be heard and properly heard through the courts. But the second issue that he rightly highlighted in his judgement was the claims that there was a political cover up. That was the premise of the Project story. That claim was repeatedly made by Senator Gallagher, Senator Wong, all kinds of other Labor parliamentarians, disgraceful attacks on the integrity of Senator Linda Reynolds and others. And the judge has gone through that very systematically in his 300 page plus judgement, and demonstrated that there was absolutely no cover up, that Miss Higgins was given appropriate support at all times. But her agency was respected. It was for her to choose if and when she made a complaint to the police. She ultimately chose to do that, but it was appropriate for her to have that choice to do that, it not be made on her behalf. So I'm not surprised that Senator Gallagher, in that interview we've just seen, was choosing her words very carefully because she knows that she engaged in a ferocious politicisation of this issue, and that judgement demonstrates that every basis of that politicisation was without foundation 

KIERAN GILBERT: In terms of the payment to Miss Higgins. What's your view on that? 

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, certainly what we know is that a very large payment was made by the Commonwealth, signed off by the attorney general. I just saw Senator Gallagher claim that she had no involvement in that. She, of course, is the Finance Minister and responsible for the Commonwealth's finances. We now have a situation where a federal court judge has cast, has raised significant questions, or indeed has highlighted methodically in his judgement, factual misstatements, he says, were made by Miss Higgins that were the premise for that payment being made. So on the face of it, would seem there is a very good question to ask as to whether this Commonwealth money was appropriately paid. And of course, let's not forget that the Attorney-General, Mr. Dreyfus and other Labor ministers specifically excluded, Senator Linda Reynolds and Senator Michaelia Cash, former both ministers at the time for whom Ms Higgins worked. They were specifically excluded from any involvement in those discussions. And the question has to be asked was Commonwealth money? Was taxpayers money carefully managed and handled in this instance? I think that is an obvious question to be asking. Uh, for anybody who reads the very thorough and methodical judgement that Justice Lee has produced, on to a few other matters now. 

KIERAN GILBERT: And, well, let's start with what I spoke to Katy Gallagher about that economic management rating by the IMF. Is that a bit of kudos for the federal government in terms of how they're managing the bottom line? 

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, the facts are that the unemployment rate goes up and down. There are more people unemployed now than when Labor came to government, more young people unemployed as well. And what we also know is that there is a cost-of-living crisis. And one of the consequences of that has been real. Wages are now some 7.5% lower than when Labor came to government. There are many Australians who are doing it very tough, and there are many Australians who would regard, frankly with bemusement, this assessment by the IMF. 

KIERAN GILBERT: Well, yes, indeed, because there's a lot of, uh, a lot of stress and pressure right now in the face of cost-of-living issues. But if there is that buffer, is that bottom line is looking better. Should the government be putting more out there in terms of cost, of living support, or are you worried about those inflationary effects? Because as we saw with the jobless number today, the economy remains resilient. 

PAUL FLETCHER: One of the core reasons why there is a cost-of-living crisis is because of this government failing to get cost of living under control, failing to get government spending under control. You know, they told us that they were going to reduce the growth of spending on the NDIS for example, to. So it would only grow at, I think, 8% a year, which is a remarkable growth rate in itself. But since that time, we've seen absolutely no detail from the Minister, Bill Shorten, as to how that reduction in growth of spending is going to be achieved. So I think these are questions that many people will be wanting to see, uh, clear answers to when the budget is handed down. The fact is that we have a cost-of-living crisis. Energy prices are well up. Let's not forget, Labor promised Australians would see a $275 reduction in their energy bills. Most bills are up by more than $1,000, going in totally the opposite direction and there is very little reason to be confident that this government has clear plans to manage the transition that has to occur in our energy system in a way that will bring energy costs down for households and businesses. 

KIERAN GILBERT: Manager of Opposition Business Paul Fletcher thanks as always.