The federal government is under intense pressure to act after some 100,000 protesters marched across Australia in a landmark moment for women’s rights.
The March4Justice movement saw calls reverberate across capital cities for the government to stand up against prevailing sexism, misogyny and gendered violence in Australia.
Advocates have now called for a national summit to be held to set the stage for this response, and have demanded that the government establish a new strategy to prevent violence against women.
Women’s Legal Service Queensland chief executive Angela Lynch said the government needed to respond with concrete action to address the concerns being raised.
“[The marches showed] the sense of inaction and injustice that women across Australia are feeling and they need the government to respond,” she told SBS News.
“The time for talking is over – it is a time for action.”
A March4Justice petition has been signed by more than 135,000 people, and was initially provoked by allegations of sexual assault made by former political staffer Brittany Higgins.
The petition has four immediate requests for action: independent investigations into all cases of gendered violence, full implementation of the 55 recommendations in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s ‘[email protected]’ 2020 report into sexual harassment, the lifting of public funding for gendered violence prevention and a federal Gender Equality Act.
It was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday by Labor’s spokesperson for women Tanya Plibersek who echoed the campaign’s calls for change.
“Enough is enough, no more violence, no more sexual harassment, no more sexual abuse, no more murders by men who were supposed to love them,” she told the Parliament.
Scott Morrison promises action, but critics say he isn’t meeting the test
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has promised to respond to the concerns of protesters, declaring he shares the same frustrations as those who marched.
Despite not attending the rally himself, he has insisted the government is committed to making women safer in their workplace and in the community.
But his choice of words in a speech addressing the march – in which he said protesters in other countries would be “met with bullets” – has been met with fierce criticism.
“This is a vibrant liberal democracy, Mr Speaker, not far from here, such marches, even now, are being met with bullets, but not here in this country,” he said on Monday.
Ms Plibersek said the prime minister continues to “miss the point”.
“Scott Morrison just doesn’t get it,” she told reporters.
“We can’t change this culture until people in a position with authority and power to change our laws are prepared to listen to what needs to change.”
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young hit out at the remarks on Twitter.
“The prime minister thinks women should be grateful that we weren’t shot for rallying for our own safety and respect at rallies across the country today. Who is advising him? This is cooked,” she said.
Mr Morrison told Parliament on Tuesday his remarks had been misrepresented and that it was “good and right” that people came together from across the country to voice their frustrations.
He said that the government “simply seeks to take action” in responding to these concerns, citing its work to develop the next action plan against domestic violence.
‘We have got a government in crisis’
Minister for Women Marise Payne has also defended her decision not to attend the rally on Monday, saying she meets with hundreds of representatives from key organisations.
“We have offered a meeting with the prime minister and myself and the organisers of the march and that offer still stands,” she told reporters.
“Our role now, in my view, is to own the problems, to own the failings as well, and most importantly to own the solutions. And that is our focus.”
But Senator Hanson-Young has criticised the failure of senior members of the government to attend the rally, saying it undermined their credibility to address the concerns of women.
“We have a government that is in crisis when it comes to listening to women … it shows that the boys club still rules within Scott Morrison’s cabinet,” she told SBS News.
Calls for reform to family court system
There are also calls for the national debate on women’s equality to prompt reform in Australia’s family law system – with advocates concerned it is too slow and expensive.
A parliamentary inquiry has tabled an interim report making 29 recommendations to improve the family law system.
This includes calling for greater funding for legal services and resourcing of family law registrars to clear a backlog of cases.
Ms Lynch said addressing concerns over the family court system was long overdue.
“We work in that sector where we are turning women away or we are unable to represent them in the court and they’re facing off against their perpetrator in the family law court,” she said.
Action needed to address gendered violence
The Australian Human Rights Commissions [email protected] report, whose 55 recommendations have been pushed in the March4Justice petition, was completed by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins and was the result of an 18-month national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.
The report was handed over to the government in January last year, but the government is yet to formally respond to the report.
Independent MP Zali Steggall has called on the government to implement the recommendations in full as part of their response to protecting women.
“There are measures they can take, quick measures… Do it. Stop talking about it and show some action,” she told reporters.
“It is so frustrating and just unbelievable that this government has so many important things that it needs to step up and do and it is failing to do that.”
Mr Morrison has pointed to the government’s commissioning of the report as evidence it is taking these issues seriously.
Ms Jenkins is also set to lead a bipartisan review of workplace culture inside Parliament House, with a report expected to be handed down in November.
Women’s Safety NSW chief executive Hayley Foster said for too long women have felt “dismissed” and “silenced” and the responsibility now lay on the government to respond to the concerns of protesters.
“What we have seen is the citizens of this country come forward and be very very clear about what is needed and now it’s time for government to act,” she told SBS News.
“Now it’s over to the government to prioritise these reforms and put it into action.”
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, you can call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.