Questions Without Notice: March 4 Justice

10.35am | March 15, 2021

Today more than 100,000 women and men attended rallies in 36 different locations across the country. My mum was one of them. She attended a march in Lismore. My mum has been waiting for a long time. She sang along to Helen Reddy's anthem 'I am woman' in the 1970s. I won't say that I didn't tear up a little when I arrived at the march on the lawns here and heard that song being played.

Senator McALLISTER (New South Wales) (15:36): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women (Senator Payne) and the Minister for Finance (Senator Birmingham) to questions without notice asked by Senators Wong, Gallagher and Walsh relating to the treatment of women.

Today more than 100,000 women and men attended rallies in 36 different locations across the country. My mum was one of them. She attended a march in Lismore. My mum has been waiting for a long time. She sang along to Helen Reddy's anthem 'I am woman' in the 1970s. I won't say that I didn't tear up a little when I arrived at the march on the lawns here and heard that song being played. I realised how long so many Australian women have waited for equality and have waited to be heard. Women of all generations are tired of not being listened to. They are frustrated that, after decades of fighting for equality, we are still facing the same problems and are still hearing the same stories again and again.

We have had enough of sexism. We have had enough of sexual harassment. We have had enough of violence against women and their children. We have had enough of sexual assault. We have had enough of rape. We have had enough of not being safe or valued in our workplaces. We have had enough of inequality and discrimination. Women today were saying that they will no longer be silent and will no longer be silenced.

One in five women over the age of 15 has experienced sexual assault. Over the last five years, 40 per cent of women have experienced sexual harassment at work. Ms Brittany Higgins appeared today and gave a brave speech to a crowd who wanted to hear her voice. She said, 'To see real progress we must seek it out.' She made the point that time is on the side of perpetrators because the status quo is the friend of the perpetrators. While there is no action, no progress, no urgency and no ambition there are no costs and no consequences to the perpetrators all across Australian workplaces.

The frustration and the anger that so many Australian women are feeling right now is because we have been fighting for equality and for respect for a very long time. It would be good to know that there is a government that is listening, a government that's capable of approaching the task of reform, change and progress with ambition and urgency.

As a government in its eighth year, there has been plenty of time and plenty of opportunities for this government to take that project on. This is a government that inherited the first-ever National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, established under Prime Minister Gillard. But it was a Labor project left languishing for the entire period of this government. When I was appointed to this portfolio, I sought through estimates to find out what was happening with the initiatives in this plan. It took months—months and months and months—to get an update. It was unclear who was in charge of the national plan. Was it Senator Ruston? Was it Senator Payne? They didn't seem to know; certainly, no-one in the department even had a spreadsheet that could be provided easily to a senator asking questions about implementation of this national document to tackle violence against women and children.

There is no urgency, there is no commitment and there appears to be very little interest in these issues from this government, universally. It's not surprising to me that the level of curiosity about the claims being made on government today is so low—so low that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Women couldn't even do these marchers the courtesy of going down to the lawns and listening with respect; listening to the victims and survivors who once again told their stories and talked about what it meant to them to have been silenced but now to speak.

I don't understand why the Prime Minister didn't attend that march and I don't understand why Minister Payne sat in this chamber. I simply don't understand it, but I will say this: Australian women are saying that enough is enough and that we expect more.

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