Australian Prime Minister Radio interview – ABC Melbourne

Prime Minister

: Anthony Albanese joins us on the radio. He is, of course, the Prime Minister of Australia. Good morning.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Raf. Good to be with you.

EPSTEIN: Can you tell us what you were told about Sydney last night?

PRIME MINISTER: What has occurred here is that a teenager, who has been apprehended, has been accused of stabbing with an instrument, a bishop at the Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley, which is in Western Sydney, last night. The offender was apprehended by parishioners until the police arrived. And the police then, of course, apprehended this person who’s in custody. The bishop, was taken to Liverpool Hospital, where he remains. There was then a considerable disruption outside.

EPSTEIN: It was a riot, wasn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it was, it was quite, quite unacceptable. I mean, police are attending an event like that in order to protect the community and the fact that the community, or some people there, turned on the police is completely unacceptable. Police were injured last night, including one police officer had his jaw broken and that is completely unacceptable. There was damage done to many police vehicles as well. And police will be, NSW police will be, investigating all of those incidents as well, and following up on the people who were involved. NSW Police overnight have declared a terror incident, and what that means is that the joint terror counter terrorism investigation will kick in, involving the AFP and our security agencies in Strike Force Petrina. We will have a meeting of the National Security Committee meeting this morning. I was briefed by the head of the Australian Federal Police, Commissioner Kershaw, and the Director-General of ASIO early this morning and we’ll be having that meeting.

EPSTEIN: Do you know the religion of the alleged offender?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, some of the details are known, but I think it’s really important at a time like this, we don’t speculate or that we make sure that all information is confirmed before it’s released by the police and authorities. This is a time where we need to respect those processes and that is precisely what we will be doing.

EPSTEIN: Can I just confirm PM – you do know his religion, but you don’t want to say, or you’re not sure, so you don’t want to say?

PRIME MINISTER: We are ensuring that everything is confirmed before any information is released.

EPSTEIN: But you are satisfied, you’re happy for this to be treated as a terrorism incident?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, due to a range of issues which I have been briefed on.

EPSTEIN: So, we’ve had this incident. I don’t want to draw too many parallels, but we had an incident that ended up being, happened to be, not the protesters might not have known it late last year, but it ended up being outside the synagogue. And so people came to blows and police were involved. I just wonder, not to draw too many parallels, but to have violence on our streets in our major two cities. Do you think that’s new?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what I know is that there’s no place for violence in our community. There’s no place for violent extremism. We’re a peace-loving nation. I think one of the great strengths of Australia is our diversity, is the respect that we show each other. And I know that this is a time for us to unite as a community and as a country. Saturday’s events at Bondi Junction were extraordinarily distressing for everyone, I’m sure, right around Australia. But particularly in Sydney, because it wasn’t clear, while it was happening what the details were, whether there was one or more perpetrator, what the motivation was. And that’s why I think it was incredibly distressing for people. This is a time where our community and our nation comes together.

EPSTEIN: I guess I’m asking if you think these tensions are new. Do you think they are unprecedented?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I certainly think that it is – any of these incidents is one too many. There have been incidents from time to time, as we know, in the past. But there’s never a place for violence in our community. There’s never a time to disrespect each other. Our strength is our diversity. And the respect that we show each other each and every day is so important. And it is important to stress that in a country of some 27 million people, overwhelmingly what we do is go about each and every day having respect for each other, which is one of the great strengths of this country. And on Saturday, you had people going about their business – I mean, everyone, whether you’re in Sydney or Melbourne or anywhere else, people know what it’s like to do shopping on a Saturday afternoon, particularly at a shopping centre. And the tragedy of these people losing their lives is just beyond comprehension.

EPSTEIN: Just before I ask more about that, I do want to go back to what happened in Sydney last night. I’m not 100 per cent clear, if I can just ask that question again. Is your concern about revealing the alleged offender’s religion because you don’t know what it is for sure, or is your concern that it’s just better that is not out there?

PRIME MINISTER: It’s a really good idea, Raf, if politicians don’t lead this information disclosure. It’s a really good idea, if police and the authorities do, when things are confirmed.

EPSTEIN: It’s just the boy in the video looks like he’s shouting things, I mean, he mentions the word the prophet and talking about interference in his religion. That does seem to indicate something. Is that – that’s not something you want to talk about?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there’s been a declaration of a terror incident, which means that it is ideologically motivated. But what we are doing here is going through the detail in a systemic way, allowing the police and the security agencies to do their job. My job, as Prime Minister, is to support the police and the security agencies. And that’s what I’m doing, and that’s what I will do each and every day I have the privilege of having this high office.

EPSTEIN: Prime Minister – we’ve had a series of horrific crimes against women in Ballarat, including Samantha Murphy. It does, the NSW Police are investigating whether or not women were deliberately targeted in Bondi. I get a lot of messages along these lines: if a mass stabbing of women is fueled or could have been seen to be driven by the ideology of misogyny do you think that should be called terrorism?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what we know is that violence against women is far too prevalent, whether it be in Ballarat, where I note there’s been a real community response of coming together and demonstrating against that violence. I know from Catherine King, the local Federal Member, is very distressed about what has occurred in that community. But we know that, their, violence, tragically, against women occurs far too prevalent in our society. On average, more than once a week, a woman dies at the hand of someone that they know. That is, that’s a scourge, that we as a society, governments, have a role to play. But the community has a role to play as well. People talking with their, their mates have a role to play as well.

EPSTEIN: Can I interrupt PM, even as you’re talking if you can address this directly, people want to know why, if it’s a scourge and it’s such a big problem, they do want to know why it is not called terrorism. I don’t know if you think it should or should not, but do you think it should be called terrorism, if it’s such a scourge?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, Raf, I don’t want to get into a definitional debate. It’s completely unacceptable and it’s horrific. What’s clear, with regard to the Sydney incident, again, is that police, the investigation is ongoing as to motivation. And I think we saw on Saturday the problem when people second guess and make declarations. On Saturday, some of which were just completely wrong, and completely untrue and distressing. So, I am going to be, as I was on Saturday, always cautious about waiting for the authorities to undertake their work.

EPSTEIN: Fair enough. Something that also comes up a lot PM, when I’ve been speaking about these crimes in Ballarat, is it up to men to find the solutions? Because I’ve had a lot of women ring up and say, they’re just furious, they’re sick of it. They are being asked about the change to their behaviour. Do you think it then follows that it’s just up to men? It is up to people like you and me to fix it or to make it better?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, absolutely, it is the case that it’s up to every Australian. But what shouldn’t happen is that women shouldn’t feel like they have to change their behaviour. That they shouldn’t be, you know, they shouldn’t be able to walk home from the train station or the bus stop at night. That’s unacceptable. Men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of this violence and men as a group have to change their behaviour. We have to be prepared to speak out about these issues. We have to be prepared to talk to our friends and people we know. We have to be prepared to call out behaviour that we see when it’s unacceptable because, including the disrespect of women.

EPSTEIN: If I can shift our attention to the defamation case yesterday, PM. Only, I wanted to ask you about this aspect of it. When you were in opposition, there was, you contributed to a debate that I guess, was questioning whether or not the Morrison Government at the time, potentially tried to cover up what Brittany Higgins was so concerned about her claims. Now, the judge was pretty specific. He said. It was the opposite, actually, that there weren’t people in the then Morrison Government trying to cover up anything Brittany Higgins was claiming at the time. Do you, as the Labor party, need to withdraw anything you said at the time?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, Raf, I think that at the time we, I believe, acted responsibly. We asked, particularly given the finding of the court outcome, which very much speaks for itself. Broadly speaking, this is a difficult time for any person that has been the subject of sexual harassment or abuse or assault. As Prime Minister, I take these matters seriously. There have been changes made at Parliament House to make it a safer place to work for women. That work is ongoing. We have committed to implementing all recommendations, there were 28 of them, of the Set the Standard Report from the former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, to improve workplace behaviour and culture at Parliament. That’s been something that since we’ve been in government has now had support across the spectrum. And in 2022 as well, we legislated one of the key Respect at Work recommendations. It was a difference that we had, it wasn’t supported by the former government, but it places a positive duty for employers to provide workplaces that are free from sexual harassment, and that has now come into effect.

EPSTEIN: I think they’re all positives PM, but I just wonder if we look back at, well, especially the experience with Brittany Higgins. She’s been in and out of hospital. Her integrity has been impugned repeatedly. The reputation of many people is actually in tatters. Do you think Brittany Higgins’ experience, do you think other women are going to think twice before they come forward?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I certainly hope that that’s not the case. I certainly hope that that’s not the case. I have every sympathy for the experience that Brittany Higgins has gone through. It’s been extraordinarily difficult for her. The Federal Court, of course, has made these, made these findings yesterday. What’s clear is that everyone has a right to be safe at work.

EPSTEIN: And you don’t resile from anything said in opposition? Sort of, you did contribute to that debate, saying the Morrison Government might have covered something up. You’re comfortable with everything you said at the time?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it would be quite extraordinary if an alleged incident, which the judge yesterday has found on the balance of probabilities did occur, occurred within metres of the office that I now occupy, and we not ask questions about it.

EPSTEIN: I guess I’m asking if you did more than ask questions.

PRIME MINISTER: I would find that extraordinary. Extraordinary.

EPSTEIN: I appreciate your time, PM. I know it’s a busy morning. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much Raf.

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