Thursday, 25 March 2021
Matters of Public Importance
I thank the deputy leader and member for Corio for letting me push in ahead of him. We are facing a moment in history in Australia. We saw 110,000 women march and we saw 135,000 women sign a petition demanding change in this country. The question is: Are we up to it as a nation? Do we have a government that is up to it? Do we have a Prime Minister who is up to it? This moment in our history could be the time when we change fundamentally to be a country where women feel safe on our streets, in our homes, in our workplaces. We could change now to be a country where women feel valued for their intellect, for their capacity, for their hard work, not their thigh gap. We could change now to be a country where every woman—and every man too—has the opportunity of living freely, of living free of gender stereotypes that are toxic not just for women but also for men. We want every Australian to have the opportunity of living the life that they wish, free from these constraints. We could do that now as a nation. The question is: Are we up to it? Are we up to it as a parliament to show the leadership that is necessary to win that change? Will those women marching, those women signing petitions lead to permanent change, or will it be a temporary inconvenience to be managed away like every other political problem that this government faces?
I thought when I saw the Prime Minister's press conference earlier this week that he started so well. He actually sounded like he'd finally got it. He was repeating back to us, as we were listening, the things that he'd heard from women—I don't know; maybe women in his family, in his office, in his social networks—and the frustrations that so many women feel. Then, 10 minutes into the press conference, because he got a question from a journalist, he just lost it again and made us think: Was it all an act? Were the tears all an act?
The tragedy for Australian women today is, if we started crying about the women we know who have been raped and murdered and sexually assaulted and sexually harassed, if we started crying for the women that we know that this has happened to, we would never stop. We would never stop. I remember the names of Anita Cobby and Janine Balding, the women who were abducted and raped and tortured and murdered when I was growing up. I remember their names. They have always stayed with me. I remember Eurydice Dixon and I remember Hannah Clarke. I remember all these women. We all do. It takes more than tears. It takes legislative change. It takes culture change. It takes working with our young people from their earliest days. Why is sexual violence one of the few categories of violent crime that's actually increasing in our community? Despite everything we know, despite the truth that brave women like Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins and Chanel Contos and Saxon Mullins are getting up and telling in their own words, sexual violence is one of the violent crime categories that's increasing. It's increasing particularly amongst young people. We have failed as a parliament and as a community when we see increasing rates of sexual assault. We know that the system is completely stacked against victims of sexual assault in this country. We know that about one in 10 report and we know that, of that one in 10 that do report, about two per cent see a guilty conviction. That is a broken legal system. It's a broken society that allows it to happen in the first place. It is a broken legal system that prevents victims of these violent crimes achieving justice. As a parliament, as a society, as parents, we need to do better.