Thursday, 18 March 2021
March 4 Justice
The last few weeks have been really tough for many, many people. The groundswell of anger around the nation that we all heard and saw in the women's March 4 Justice rallies must be addressed. In speaking today, I want to acknowledge that, while my own experience working in this place since first being elected in 2013 has been a good one, this is not the case for some of us, and that is simply beyond not okay—it is just plain wrong. We've got to do better. It's on all of us as Australians.
In the past few weeks, I've felt my own rising tidal wave of anger inside as I've really grappled with the reality of what we as a nation face, of what we as women have faced, and as long buried memories have been disturbed of what I've faced. Even in preparing my words, I admit I haven't liked confronting this—any of it. But my own experience over my lifetime is far too common. And for too long a culture of silence has validated an unspoken expectation, at least for me, that, if I as a woman raise a problem, I will be made to be the problem. Perhaps that leads some of us to think that the best way to stay safe is to stay silent, but my own experience now tells me that it is not.
When I look over my 30-plus years of working across many, many different roles, only a small handful were horrible experiences where I personally came to experience and learn this lie. I do want to make it clear that none of the following examples relate to this place, but, for instance, I wrote a letter of complaint—decades ago now, on behalf of another young woman—outlining unwanted sexual harassment by an older man in a position of power. The initial response was to be told: 'How dare you. Who do you think you are?' Many years ago, I was propositioned by a married man in a more senior role than me. I turned him down, and my work suddenly became unacceptable. I left; he stayed. Another time, after being constantly told by a different person that the degrading way he spoke was my fault, he repeatedly suggested I end my own life. He did say he was sorry afterwards, but only the first time. And once, just once, I raised an issue with a past boss to seek a positive change in a workplace. A campaign to make me the issue began that went way too far. I learnt brutally, through accusations and extreme actions—including a dead pig's head with a threatening note landing on my family's front doorstep—that when you raise a problem, too often, you are made the problem.
The deep undercurrent of anger that culminated in a march of tens of thousands across Australia is very real. Today, I choose to use my voice to unite with other voices across the nation calling for change. Change requires all of us to face some brutal, hard truths, to take the time to listen, to validate, to understand and to give voice to those whose voices were silenced. In making our workplaces safe, including looking at relevant workplace and legal reforms, we also need to be prepared to fund more mental health services to deal with a long trail of damage that is left for those who have suffered the trauma of harassment, assault and being unsafe. Healing can take years, and government funding of counselling and support services must better acknowledge and reflect this.
Let me be clear. People must be held to account for their actions, including through our justice system and genuine workplace reform. Alongside this, another issue we also need to consider as we grapple with how to create change for good is how the very real human fear of shame can sometimes inhibit the very changes a perpetrator needs to be able to face and address. Because for some people, even raising an issue with them is enough for them to defend by going on the offensive—deny, attack, blame the victim or the person who raised it, project, look anywhere but where they should look—which of course only entrenches the cycle and doesn't change it. So while we've got really strong messages around, for example, family violence, developing campaigns and providing support to ensure that those who perpetrate such behaviour can seek and receive help as well as all relevant help being available and accessible to those they harm should also be considered. Stop it at the Start is a good start, but we need more federal government funding for relevant services to encourage more perpetrators to seek and get help and engage in a genuine process of change that lasts their lifetimes. Because we not only need to end the cycle; we need to reverse it.
It's taken a collective tsunami of rage sweeping across the nation for me to be able to acknowledge in myself that, for too long, I have tolerated the culture of silence, and I acknowledge that my past experiences somewhat broke my own voice as a means of self-protection. So this is my first step, but not the last, towards using my voice to call for the changes that are needed to ensure all of us are respected and safe in our workplaces and our communities. It doesn't start tomorrow. It's already begun.
House adjourned at 17:00