Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Transcript of Interview, ABC 24 with Lyndal Curtis

Program: ABC 24

Subject: offensive menu at Liberal fundraiser; gender issues

LYNDAL CURTIS: Jenny Macklin, welcome to ABC News 24.

JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you Lyndal.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Now we’ve heard today about the now infamous menu at a Coalition fundraiser for candidate Mal Brough. It’s not the first example of offensive jokes. There have been signs at carbon tax rallies, at a union function, a derogatory joke about Tony Abbott’s chief of staff. Why do you think people find it okay to say or do things in private that they would never do in public?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well it’s not okay. Of course the function that you refer to today was definitely not okay, and I think it does demonstrate a terrible pattern of behaviour in far too many functions, some semi-private, some very public. You mentioned the public rallies where Tony Abbott stood next to extremely insulting signs about the Prime Minister. Tony Abbott didn’t think there was anything wrong with standing next to those signs and I think today’s menu demonstrates just a disgraceful pattern of behaviour.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Do you accept that this happens on both sides of politics?

JENNY MACKLIN: Unfortunately it demonstrates that this attitude towards women is in existence in far too many parts of our society. But I think you do have to acknowledge that today’s activity happened at a Liberal National party fundraiser. Somebody approved this disgusting menu, choice of words, and now we have a Liberal candidate who is apologising for it which I think, given what he seems to have approved, is nowhere near what he should be doing. I just can’t see how Mal Brough can continue to stand for the Liberal Party.

LYNDAL CURTIS: If we can go to the Prime Minister’s speech last night, she told a function that Australian women didn’t want to live in an Australia where abortion again becomes the political plaything of men who think they know better. What evidence is there that a Federal Coalition Government would make changes to what are essentially state laws?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well it’s not right to say that abortion is just a matter for the states. As you would know, it is partly the responsibility state governments and partly the responsibility of the federal government. Medicare fund abortions that are done legally in many parts of Australia, and of course the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme also has the capacity to fund medications that might induce a termination. So these are matters that are the responsibility in part of a federal government. And of course Tony Abbott, as Health Minister, has made comments in the past suggesting that abortion is the easy way out. I don’t think that is an appropriate thing for a Health Minister to say to any woman, at any time. These are enormously difficult decisions for any women confronting a very, very difficult decision and he didn’t say it when he was twenty years old, he said it when he was Health Minister just a few years ago.

LYNDAL CURTIS: But he also has people in his Shadow Cabinet who would presumably be Ministers, senior Ministers if the Coalition won power, who voted in the conscience vote, to overturn the ban on RU486. People who voted for overturning that ban including Joe Hockey, Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull. So presumably, whatever Mr Abbott does, there would be voices in the Coalition arguing against that.

JENNY MACKLIN: And I was in the Parliament when Tony Abbott was the Health Minister and I had many Liberal women members gravely concerned about his views about abortion at the time, who spoke to me privately about how concerned they were. So I acknowledge there are Liberal women who have grave concerns about Tony Abbott’s views. The Prime Minister’s point is that the Australian people need to know what Tony Abbott’s views are on these very, very important matters. Important to many Australian women who need to know that they will have access to safe and affordable abortions if they are ever faced with that very, very difficult choice.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Prime Minister also argued last night that if the Coalition won Government, then women would be banished from the centre of Australia’s political life. Now given that example of the RU486 drug, where there was a cross-party group including Coalition women, pushing that, given the fact that the Liberal Party Deputy Leader, Julie Bishop, is a woman, can the Prime Minister really make that claim?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well the Prime Minister, our Prime Minister, is a woman. She leads our Government and our country in a way that no other person ever has before. She brings the issues of her gender to the fore. And of course I think she’s right to put these issues on the national stage…

LYNDAL CURTIS: …but her deputy is a man, and the number three person in the Government is a man, so…

JENNY MACKLIN: …and she is the Prime Minister, and it hasn’t happened before. And she is saying to the Australian people that she wants to remind them that having a woman as Prime Minister does mean that these critical issues for women like making sure that abortion is available safely and affordably if people need such a procedure. And these are very important matters that the Australian public need to know about, and they need to know what leaders of different political parties think about these issues.

LYNDAL CURTIS: The Prime Minister has said before, particularly when dismissing reports from the media about leadership, that she wants to concentrate on policy issues, particularly education. Yet her own statements today about a possible step forward with WA on education funding have been overshadowed by this issue of gender politics, one she herself raised last night. Wasn’t that foreseeable, and doesn’t she risk overshadowing her own efforts on education?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I don’t think anybody could say to an Australian woman that the issue of abortion isn’t an important policy matter. It’s an extremely important policy matter and one that needs to be discussed and debated openly in our society. And when people are considering their choices at the next election, understand the views of Tony Abbott…

LYNDAL CURTIS: …but he hasn’t said he’ll change the laws though, has he? You have no evidence that he as Prime Minister would change the law.

JENNY MACKLIN: But he has made very strong statements as Health Minister and he needs to really make clear what his position would be as Prime Minister. Our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has made clear her view. And I don’t think that you can blame the Prime Minister for reacting very strongly to this disgusting menu that was published at a Liberal Party fundraiser. I think she’s well within he rights for responding in the way that she has today. It was absolutely offensive.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Jenny Macklin, that’s where we’ll have to leave it. Thank you very much for joining us today.