Liberal parliamentarians, Bridget Archer, Jane Hume and Sarah Henderson will join thousands of women at Parliament House today to March 4 Justice– despite growing unease in senior government ranks about the protest’s impact.
Gaining rapid national momentum over the past weeks, #March4Justice is essentially a furious, collective reaction to the government’s (mis)handling of numerous allegations of sexual misconduct. From Rachelle Miller to Brittany Higgins, and of course, historic rape allegations levelled at Australia’s Attorney General Christian Porter a fortnight ago.
As a survivor of child sexual abuse, Archer said she would stand in solidarity with those marching at more than 40 events nationwide.
“I have pledged to do more to address violence against women,” she said. “It is time for change – as a parliamentarian I want women to know – I hear you, I see you, I am listening to you.”
Jane Hume and Sarah Henderson also reportedly said they would join this morning, though an insistent Hume pleaded with organiser Janine Hendry in the halls of parliament to reconsider the Prime Minister’s eleventh hour offer to meet with her in person.
“Can I just urge you, please, take the opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Women. World leaders come into this building and take up that opportunity, the fact that you’ve been invited is really, really exciting. Please, grasp the mantel and take up the opportunity.”
Minister for Women, Marise Payne flat rejected the prospect of marching, saying she’d accept a petition from organisers “via correspondence” but not in person.
“It’s not only disappointing to me personally but it’s extremely disappointing to the 85,000-plus women who are wanting to have their voices at 38 planned protests across the country,” said Hendry.
“I would say to the current government ‘read the room’”.
Although Scott Morrison did offer to meet with organisers of the rally, his request that it be “behind closed doors” triggered a ripple of anger across the country. After mounting pressure from women on Twitter, Hendry declined the Prime Minister’s invitation, suggesting he meet and march instead.
Morrison told reporters on Sunday he would not go because “when you’re prime minister in Canberra, it’s a very busy day” but said he would “very happy to receive a delegation” privately in his office.
It was a slightly better response than that given by deputy PM Michael McCormack who said simply that he had “meetings all day”.
It’s hard to imagine what kind of priorities sit ahead of this right now.
But while these responses from our senior leaders are undeniably disappointing, they’re far from surprising. For weeks, the government has played a desperate game of distraction; working to divert the glaring light that’s shining on a deeply ingrained culture of parliamentary sexism and misogyny.
Rather than take up a momentous opportunity to be a leader for change and progress, the Prime Minister has instead issued a few hollow words, extended empathy only when directed by his wife and stood by Porter unequivocally despite quick cracks turning into gaping ruptures.
But for a master of marketing, Morrison seems to have missed the point on this issue completely. Although a minority government would be challenging, the alternative he’s essentially chosen is far worse. Newspoll today shows Labor now leads the LNP 52% to 48% on a two-party preferred basis. The Prime Minister’s failure to act decisively where women are concerned could very easily cost him the next election.
It’s encouraging to see some women in the government standing up for something better. The decision by Hume, Henderson and Archer to march in solidarity today shows they acknowledge– alongside a huge number of cross-party representatives– that women in Australia deserve better.
But their decision also shows that they, like the majority of women, want more from this government. And that’s a reality check that won’t be welcome by Scott Morrison.