29 March 2021


SUBJECTS: Proposed drug and alcohol testing in Parliament; culture in Parliament.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS, HOST: Andrew Laming has been in Federal Parliament for 17 years and I don't know about you, but I'd never heard of the Queensland MP until now. He's been forced to leave at the next election after being accused of taking a photo of a woman bending over while she was filling a fridge with soft drinks. He did that without her consent. And he's also abused two women online, to the point that one considered suicide. Now right now he's on medical leave so he can get empathy training. If you watched ABC TV's “Insiders” yesterday morning, you would have seen a couple of female Liberal MPs calling on him to quit now. And then they took things further and said they'd support drug and alcohol testing at Parliament House to stamp out problematic behaviour, Here’s the member for Higgins Katie Allen and Victorian Senator Sarah Henderson: 

(Insiders upsot) 

MITSOPOULOS: So what do you think? 1300 222 720. If you work in the resource industry, this is normal. And what about access to alcohol? Do our politicians need access to a bar anymore or should it be restricted? Let me know what happens at your workplace and what you think needs to happen at Parliament House. And I wonder what the other side of politics think, you heard from two Liberal female MPs there? 

Well, let's see what Labor thinks, Matt Keogh is the Labor Member for Burt and he joins me this morning. Good morning. 

MATT KEOGH, MEMBER FOR BURT: Hi, Nadia, great to be with you. 

MITSOPOULOS: Drug and alcohol testing of MPs. Is that something you would support?

KEOGH: Well, I think it's important that we put all of that in, in a context where - I've heard the comments that were made on “Insiders” and other people that have made comments. And it's that I don't actually see a lot of drinking happening during sitting hours in Parliament. And you referred to Andrew Laming before and his conduct was outside of the Parliament. And my concern is that if we just fixate on having alcohol testing, which if we went down that pathway is that it allows people to cover over a much broader and probably the more important cultural issue, which is bad behaviour that is occurring in Parliament or by parliamentarians. And I think that’s still where we have to remain, remain focused, whether people are under the influence of alcohol or not, and they shouldn't be using alcohol as an excuse for bad behaviour. I think it's really important we remain focused on that issue, as I say, and there's certainly stories of people who have done things, you know – consumed way too much alcohol in Parliament House, and that's not appropriate.

But I think in the vast majority of cases, not dissimilar to many workplaces, but very different to some workplaces, some alcohol is consumed in the building with functions that go on, at dinners and so forth. But I don't actually see a lot of alcohol consumption, especially when the Parliament is actually sitting. And I will point out that the Federal Parliament, unlike other Parliaments around the country doesn't have a bar anymore. In fact, it's been replaced by a childcare centre. 

MITSOPOULOS: So what's the access like to alcohol in Parliament House because some will also argue that excessive alcohol can contribute to bad behaviour. 

KEOGH: Excessive alcohol consumption it's something that I don't think anyone would be condoning, in terms of access to alcohol, there are functions on many evenings. There's a dining room which has alcohol, which you know people can have with meals. And many MPs would have, you know, fridges that might have beer or wine in their office for if they're hosting people for a function or whatever else. I'm not saying there's no alcohol consumption in Parliament, don't get me wrong, what I'm saying is I don't see excessive alcohol consumption being the norm by any means where that is, where that is occurring, I don't think anyone is condoning it at all. And I know that, you know, Katie, and Sarah called that out on the weekend and appropriately so. But the vast majority of MPs are not consuming alcohol in that sort of way, especially when Parliament is actually sitting. And that's something that I just think is important to bear in mind in the context that when we think about what's been raised over the last sort of six weeks or so, in terms of inappropriate behaviour, and inappropriate is probably putting it mildly. That hasn't necessarily been alcohol fuelled and there’s a broader cultural issue that we need to focus on. 

MITSOPOULOS: And I'll talk to in a moment about what you think, how that can change, that broader cultural issue. That so you saying though, that because certainly here in WA, you can walk into a bar at Parliament House and just have a drink? You don't need to have a meal with it, can you do that at Parliament House in Canberra, apart from the dining room, and apart from what you have in your fridge in your office? Is there somewhere that you can go in that building and just have a drink?

KEOGH: No. There are sometimes functions, you know, so I suppose to use the State Parliament analogy, there's a courtyard area at the State Parliament. There's a number of different sort of, function spaces in the Federal Parliament where sometimes there will be evening functions where they might be serving sort of canapes and wine or beer. If you wanted to, you know, if an MP wanted to make a concerted effort to make sure they got to five functions across the course of an evening and stood next to where the drinks were coming out, certainly you could consume a lot of alcohol. But frankly, we're too busy. We've got stuff – we’ve got the work of Parliament going on, there’s committee meetings, there's other meetings going on. Some MPs may do that. But it's definitely not the norm. 

MITSOPOULOS: Okay, so then why have it? Why do you actually need alcohol in Parliament House and a lot of people are texting the programme and calling saying make it a dry zone, like other workplaces? Why do you actually need alcohol there? If you want to drink, leave and go to a bar down the road?

KEOGH: Well, the first point I'd make is that you can't leave when Parliament is sitting. And a lot of these functions and why there's alcohol provided and so forth, is they’re like any other industry function, they are involving external people coming into the building as well. And by and large, that's where the consumption end of those functions is, as well. So that's how it operates, but from my point of view as I say… 

MITSOPOULOS: But should you have them in a bar fridge in your office? Should you be able to have alcohol in your office, why do you need to do that, you're at work?

KEOGH: My point is about during when Parliament is sitting, and I don't see an excessive amount of, or much consumption of alcohol at all, when Parliament is sitting by MPs. And I think all I'm trying to point out is, I guess is, I'm not saying there's necessarily a problem with what's proposed. I don't want people to be left with the impression that there's a whole heap of drinking going on at Parliament House, when Parliamentarians are doing their work as representatives of people in the community. That's certainly not case. 

MITSOPOULOS: I take your point there, but then what about this idea of drug testing or alcohol testing? Would you support it given I appreciate what you've said, if we can go back to that you've told us what your impression is of the use of alcohol in Parliament? Is that a good idea? Because overwhelmingly, our listeners are saying yes it is, hold them to the highest standard. 

KEOGH: Yeah, I don't I don't have any drama with it. Because I don't think it will actually cause much of a change of behaviour at all, in the sense that I don't get the sense that people are doing a lot drinking anyway. So if you want to have testing of those things then I don't think it would cause much drama. 

MITSOPOULOS: Okay. More broadly, final question Matt Keogh, how do you bring about that cultural change that you talk about? 

KEOGH: This is a big issue, because some of these behaviours, you'll think, how on earth do you ever need training to know that that's wrong? And I agree with that position, like people should just know this, especially if you've gotten to the position of being a Federal MP, but there are areas where I think MPs can be better trained, especially on induction, but an on an ongoing basis, as well as any staff of MPs that have to supervise other staff, in terms of how to respond to complaints, what is inappropriate and appropriate behaviour on the edges so that people understand, and I'm sure anyone who's done this sort of training in any workplace knows
the law can change around some of these elements. And it's important for people to be kept up to date around what is inappropriate, on the fringes, in the grey areas, but also just to continually remind people. Especially it's important so that MPs and staff supervising other staff can respond to allegations properly, appropriately, provide the support, make sure that people don't compound some of these issues by taking inappropriate steps as well. That's really important. And what really struck me coming into Parliament back in 2016 was that there was none of that included in the induction process for a new MP, as I'm sure most of your listeners would know, when you go into work, this is all part of an induction process for many new staff in organisations now, and it's very bizarre that it's not included in what MPs do when they become an MP. 

MITSOPOULOS: Matt Keogh, thank you so much for your time. He's the Federal Labor MP for Burt. Let's go to your calls.