Tuesday, 23 March 2021
Women in the Fremantle community are adding their voices to the nationwide chorus of women expressing anger, indignation, pain, bewilderment and despair based on their experience of sexism and misogyny in all their many forms and awful consequences. But women are also expressing a fierce resolve to break what has been a harmful silence and to achieve change. I'm listening to the messages sent directly to me as a local member. I'm listening to colleagues in this place, including the speech you gave at the end of last of week, Deputy Speaker Wicks. And I was grateful to listen last Monday, at the March 4 Justice, to Aunty Violet Sheridan, Michele O'Neil, Sally McManus and Brittany Higgins. There is no doubt this is a long-overdue reckoning, a reckoning that needs to deliver cultural and structural change in many areas of life—in education, in the workplace and in the justice system but also in the fair representation of women in leadership, whether it's in politics, public service or business.
Last week I had a look at some of the details with respect to the House of Representatives. There have been 1,204 members since the House was formed in 1901. Only 133 of those members have been women. Forty-seven of those 133 are members of the House of Representatives right now. It's worth reflecting that, while there have been only 133 women as members, there have been some 90 men called John. There are still 68 seats out of the 151 that have never been represented by a woman. Only 29 electorates have been represented by more than one woman, a too-small group of seats that I'm happy to say does include Fremantle.
Clearly we've got a lot of ground to make up, and that requires not just words but action and tangible change. It does require parties to get serious about undoing the discrimination that prevents the parliament from reflecting the gender balance in our society as a whole. Labor has taken some of those steps. That's why our caucus is presently 48 per cent comprised of women. We are on track to achieve balance. But there is no doubt we need far-reaching change across our society. We still don't have fairness in the economy when there's a persistent gender pay gap, when women retire with a superannuation balance that's half that of men, and when we don't have a childcare system that enables a full participation of women in the workforce. Indeed, we have, unfortunately, this year seen retrograde steps in terms of women's safety and wellbeing as a result the abolition of the Family Court.
It has been a bleak month here in Parliament House, but that's because of a reckoning that is long overdue with the sexism and patriarchal injustice that is acute and entrenched in Australia. People in my community, especially women, are rightly saying enough is enough. It is time for all of us, but especially for men, to listen to those who have suffered prejudice, harassment and worse, to reflect without defensiveness or anger or deflection, and to change and to support change.
This morning I made some comments when asked by the media about the appalling goings on in Parliament House, as reported on Network 10 last night. In the reporting, my comments were then selectively taken out of context to provoke outrage against me as well as the government, to fill the 24-hour news cycle.
I expressed my concern for the sacked staffer's mental health, and I also said I did not want to join the national pile on with regards to this staff member, who was rightfully dismissed for his actions. What I also said was that I was horrified by what I saw on the news last night. I said that there is a real behavioural problem in parliament, and we must address it. I said that I always set the highest standards for myself and my staff, and I called for a strict code for all MPs, senators and staff to adhere to, and that they should behave themselves. Hardly any of this was reported, and I find my comments taken out of context and being used as clickbait for the amusement of the baying mob on the cesspit that is social media.
Today I have been subject to a pile on and a form of bullying on social media the size of which I haven't seen for a while but have become used to in my day-to-day life as a politician. I have always prided myself not only on going out of my way to help all constituents of Capricornia in any way I can but also on dealing fairly and reasonably with those who disagree with me. However, in return for this, I, too, have been subjected to a kind of treatment by some of my opponents—not only people in the Labor party but friends and supporters of militant unions and fringe groups—that is designed to break a candidate's spirit. These opponents—whose right to oppose I do not object to, by the way—have issued death threats to my family; have tried to intimidate bully, and harass my staff and volunteers; and have often organised loud and boisterous protests with state and federal Labor members outside my office in Rockhampton. For years, MPs and their staff and families and volunteers have quietly put up with the threats, have quietly put up with the abuse and have quietly put up with the intimidation.
But no more. It is time to call it out for the outrage that it is. As I said, I do not in any way object to those who wish to oppose my view of the world—that is democracy—but to use intimidation, bullying and misogyny to target me, my family and female volunteers is not democracy and never will be. Within these walls, I have treated all my parliamentary colleagues with respect and have received it in return. I am proud to represent the people of Capricornia and will never take that for granted. I can assure you that, despite the threats of violence, I will continue to serve the voters of Capricornia and the vast non-violent majority it contains.