Senate debates

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Sexual Harassment, March 4 Justice, Women's Safety

3:31 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I acknowledge Senator McDonald's attendance, as well as others from the other side, because where the apology really should be going is to the fact that the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Women didn't attend the rally. That's where the politicisation has occurred. What I'm saying is that this is bipartisan support for making sure that the voice of women and the serious matters we're dealing with right now in this place are dealt with appropriately. As we've seen over the past eight years, the government has once again failed to rise to the occasion that is before it. Yesterday hundreds of thousands of courageous Australian women around the country embarked on the historic March 4 Justice. In stark contrast to the limp excuses put forward by those opposite in recent weeks, we heard powerful, brilliant speeches by incredible women, like Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame. And for the 12 million Australian men: your job is to listen—our job is to listen—whether you joined the protests in the streets around the country or not. For those cowering in this building, as the Prime Minister chose to do: you need to listen.

Men and women in the Morrison government: you have the power to do so much more. But instead of rising to the occasion, instead of seizing this opportunity to take a stand against the pandemic of sexual harassment in this country and in this building, the Prime Minister has proactively obstructed and undermined those seeking long-overdue justice. The Prime Minister refused to meet the rally just outside these doors. The Deputy Prime Minister refused to meet the rally just outside these doors. The Minister for Women refused to meet the rally just outside these doors. Instead, the Prime Minister declared it a triumph that these courageous women were not 'met with bullets'.

The Prime Minister believes that the women of Australia should be content that they can protest without being murdered in the streets and that they should be satisfied with that. What lofty ambition the Prime Minister of Australia has for the women of this country! It's hardly surprising when the same Prime Minister announced he could only sympathise with Brittany Higgins because he is a father. No-one will ever say it better than Grace Tame, Australian of the Year, did at the National Press Club:

It shouldn't take having children to have a conscience. And, actually, on top of that, having children doesn't guarantee a conscience.

Indeed, it does not.

This is a government which sends senior cabinet ministers on indefinite paid leave, hoping that the scandals will blow over. One such minister is the Minister for Defence, who failed her duty of care to her staff member, who mishandled the most serious claim of misconduct, of sexual assault, which has ever taken place in this building, who called Brittany Higgins—who has displayed such incredible courage in coming forward not just for herself but for victims of sexual assault around Australia—a 'lying cow'. The minister only apologised for that remark upon threat of a defamation lawsuit. This is conduct unbecoming any manager or employer, let alone a federal cabinet minister.

Speaking of lawsuits, we have the Attorney-General, who announced yesterday, while on indefinite paid leave at the time, that he was suing the ABC journalist who revealed the allegations made against him, rather than being accountable and doing the right thing, rather than standing down pending an independent inquiry. Of course, the government, instead, is attacking the media. The only legal action the Morrison government is taking on these rape allegations is not against the Attorney-General. The only legal action being taken is against a female journalist, for having the audacity to do her job. This is a disgraceful approach but one which is consistent with the Morrison government's attitude towards women.

In 2003, when the then Governor-General, Peter Hollingworth, was accused of rape, the then Prime Minister stood him down pending an investigation. What's happening with the Attorney-General? (Time expired)


No comments