‘Winds of change howling through corridors of power’: Morrison challenged to act

‘Winds of change howling through corridors of power’: Morrison challenged to act


Labor has challenged Prime Minister Scott Morrison to act more swiftly on public anger about the treatment of women, sparking a personal clash in Parliament about claims of sexual assault on both sides of politics.

Mr Morrison promised to respond to protests about violence against women, declaring he shared the frustrations of thousands of people who rallied across the country on Monday.

Labor expressed disbelief the PM had not known of Brittany Higgins’ allegation she had been raped by a colleague in 2019 sooner.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

But Labor leader Anthony Albanese seized on the Women’s March 4 Justice protests to accuse Mr Morrison of trying to manage the politics without solving the problem, turning the issue into a test of leadership.

Labor backbenchers jeered Mr Morrison in a heated debate over the “stain of violence” suffered by women, while questioning him about the alleged rape of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins by a colleague in a minister’s office two years ago.

Question time began with statements from Mr Morrison and Mr Albanese praising the march outside Parliament House, but the Prime Minister drew anger from the opposition benches when he said it was Australia’s “vibrant liberal democracy” that allowed protesters to peacefully express their frustrations.

“Not far from here, such marches, even now, are being met with bullets, but not here in this country. Not here in this country. This is a triumph of democracy when we see these things take place,” he said.

Mr Albanese said Mr Morrison had “not so much a tin ear as a wall of concrete” in failing to act on calls for change, noting the government was yet to respond to all the findings of the Respect@Work report on workplace sexual harassment, which was handed down one year ago.

“Women are demanding change and they are entitled to get it,” Mr Albanese said.

Labor expressed disbelief that Mr Morrison had not known of Ms Higgins’ rape allegation sooner than February 15, when the claim was revealed in the media.

Labor also rebuked Mr Morrison for not reading the statement of a woman who accused Attorney-General Christian Porter of raping her in 1988, a claim he strongly denies.

Labor MPs Anika Wells, Kate Thwaites and Alicia Payne returned to Parliament from maternity leave and paid homage to a photo from 1943 of Dorothy Tangey and Dame Enid Lyons entering the front door of Old Parliament House.Credit:National Film and Sound Archive, Alex Ellinghausen

“Without consequences, we’re unlikely to get change because a lot of this is about power so there has to be checks on the power,” Ms Thwaites said.

While Mr Morrison did not attend Canberra’s March 4 Justice protest, more than a dozen Coalition MPs did, including frontbenchers Jane Hume, Melissa Price, Zed Seselja and Luke Howarth. About three-quarters of the Labor caucus joined the rally along with many of their staff.

Liberal Celia Hammond told Parliament ahead of the protest the need for cultural change in society, in politics and in the criminal justice system was clear.

“We must refuse to accept that just because it has always been this way it should continue that way,” she said. “Personally, I refuse to accept that an acceptable response to all of this is to suck it up, toughen up, move on.”

Coalition politicians Sarah Henderson, Angie Bell, Jane Hume, Luke Howarth, Michelle Landry, Zed Seselja, Bridget McKenzie, Dr Anne Webster and Gerard Rennick at the Women’s March 4 Justice in Canberra.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

She urged all sides of politics to listen, to put aside their own biases and “engage in a truly genuine non-partisan process, not one that is carried out via a polemical tit-for-tat or the vile anonymous sewer that inhabits vast portions of social media”.

Liberal colleague Katie Allen, the member for Higgins, said the government had to act on the call for change. To start with, she wants to see more money put towards implementing the Respect@Work recommendations.

“The warm winds of change for women are now howling through the corridors of power and it is not a moment too soon,” she said.

Liberal member for Reid Fiona Martin said Australia stood at a critical point in its history.

“As thousands gather not far from where we are right now, the message being sent is loud and clear. We are not doing enough,” she said. “I did not come to Canberra to protest, I came to Canberra to legislate.”

National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line: 1800 737 732. Crisis support can be found at Lifeline: (13 11 14 and lifeline.org.au), the Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467 and suicidecallbackservice.org.au) and beyondblue (1300 22 4636 and beyondblue.org.au).

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