It came to me last night as I attempted to find my way into slumber. I tossed, I turned, I despaired.
The last few weeks have been intense even for a statistically “lucky woman” like me: a women who hasn’t experienced sexual assault or sexual violence. Harassment and sexism, of course, but never assault or violence. I hate that that makes me lucky. But it does. I hate to imagine the distress and grief and anguish and anger and fury and fear that women less lucky – through no fault of their own – have endured these past few weeks.
To describe the craven allegations of sexual assault related to Parliament House that have dominated Australian politics as deeply disturbing is woefully inadequate. The alleged crimes have ruined lives. It is utterly shattering to contemplate the anguish experienced by the victims – and their loved ones. And it is utterly enraging to consider the callousness with which they have been treated by the Prime Minister.
The shameful absence of an adequate response from the Prime Minister and his government has led to the eruption of white hot rage among women – and many men – that can only be described as volcanic. That in the face of allegations so shocking and serious that they could readily undermine a government, the current Prime Minister does not consider himself to have any questions to answer? Breathtaking.
Since February 15th Scott Morrison has done what Scott Morrison does best. He ducks. He smirks. He disregards. He obfuscates. He minimises.
In Question Time on Monday the 15th of February, the day Brittany Higgins’ allegations were published, he said he couldn’t comment because the matter was under police investigation. It wasn’t. He just didn’t want to comment.
In the Mural Hall he reached for the mantle of ‘father of daughters’ and even conjured tears and let his voice break to display the compassion his wife Jenny helped to ‘clarify’. Imagine if Brittany Higgins were his daughter? Imagine! But other than provoking a show of emotion this ‘clarity’ didn’t result in any meaningful action.
On several occasions since then he’s explained that neither the Defence Minister Linda Reynolds or the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton or senior members of his staff informed him of the allegations.
The first he knew of it – he says – was when Samantha Maiden’s news article was published. It begs the question – if police can be investigating allegations of a rape inside a minister’s office and that’s not considered relevant to the Prime Minister, what exactly is considered relevant?
The PM says he’s disappointed he wasn’t told and yet, once again, any action to substantiate this position remains elusive. The responses from the PM and various ministers drew fierce criticism from Brittany Higgins herself.
That didn’t stop the PM talking about what ‘Brittany’ would want in Question Time while attempting to frame an ‘investigation’ by his own office as an adequate response.
When another three women came forward with their own alleged experiences of harassment by the same political staffer and the PM was asked about sexual harassment in parliament his rebuke was curious – sexual harassment happens everywhere. We were ‘kidding ourselves’ if we thought it was only happening in Parliament House.
He’s not wrong: sexual harassment is prolific. But we’re not the ones kidding ourselves. He is. Because if the PM understands this why did he fail to enact a single recommendation from the report that was handed to him in March 2019 after a historic and comprehensive inquiry led by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins?
His responses stretch credulity. And yet the Prime Minister and his government are steadfast in their commitment to publicly dismissing, minimising, confusing and effectively ignoring the serious issues at hand.
In the face of shocking and serious allegations that a current Cabinet minister committed rape against a 16 year school student in 1988, who reportedly took her own life in 2020, the PM reached for indifference. ‘Nothing for him to do’ is the nub of it.
These allegations cast an ominous cloud over his whole cabinet and threaten to undermine the validity of his government as a result but the PM is nonplussed.
The minister in questions denies the allegations. Yes, he’d heard ‘rumours’. Nothing of substance though. Nothing to concern him. He doesn’t get involved with ‘rumours’. He couldn’t possible ‘interfere’.
Which is the part I mulled over while sleep proved elusive. I do not believe the Prime Minister is telling the truth. I call bullshit and I rarely swear.
See last night I thought back to that day in October last year when I received a phonecall from the Prime Minister’s office telling me to stop criticising their budget.
It was the day after they had handed down the biggest spending budget in Australia’s history and someone inside the PM’s office had enough time – and obvious inclination – to pick up the phone and call me. Apparently, as a ‘public figure’ what I say matters and they took issue with what I was saying – issue enough that they deemed it necessary to ‘interfere’.
As a journalist and advocate I accept I have a public profile but I’m a private citizen. I’m unconvinced I’m a ‘public figure’ but if that is the view of the Prime Minister’s office, then please tell me how a Cabinet minister is not a significantly more influential public figure whose actions are the PM’s quite legitimate concern?
If my actions, my words in reality, shared as a journalist and advocate through two small independent organisations – Women’s Agenda and The Parenthood – are enough to warrant a phone call from the PMO, tell me how a rumour of a Cabinet minister allegedly raping a 16 year old is not substantial enough to warrant the Prime Minister at least asking a few questions?
The same questions are applicable in relation to the handling of Brittany Higgins’ allegations of rape. If a private citizen like me gets a phonecall telling me to be quiet, then tell me how on earth the Defence Minister evades a phonecall or a meeting to address serious criminal allegations that are said to have occurred in her office?
There is a deep, dark chasm between the government’s outward facing PR offensive and the sinister way in which they work behind the scenes.
In front of the cameras? Evade. Nothing to see here. I don’t understand the question. I’m the Prime Minister! I didn’t know. I didn’t ask. What else can I say? Move on.
Behind the scenes? They’re working the phones. Calling people like me and Greg Bearup and even Peter Van Onselen asking us to be quiet. They’re getting the Communications Minister to pressure the ABC to get a program blocked from being broadcast. Even though ‘those rumours’ apparently weren’t of enough substance to deign any interest from the PM.
I call bullshit, which I type with regret not just because I rarely swear but because it’s genuinely disturbing to fathom an Australian Prime Minister acting with this level of impunity. I am fed up.
I am fed up with hearing horrid stories from women and girls about the sexual assault and harassment they have experienced. I am fed up with watching too many of these women muster every bit of courage they can find to tell their stories and lay their souls bare in a bid to create change. To prevent these inexcusable crimes happening. And then being doubted, ignored, harassed, dismissed and worse.
I am fed up with a government that wilfully ignores these women and tries to smirk and shift its way out of accountability. And, I’m not alone in feeling fed up and let down. Two thirds of Australians believe this government cares more about itself than women. Enough.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, I understand you were ‘incandescent with rage’ on Budget night when a whole lot of credible women and men called you out for blatantly disregarding women in the history-making post-COVID budget. Despite literally ignoring countless budget submissions and representations making the case for necessary investments to address the financial insecurity of women, you were furious, I’m told, that you were criticised for ignoring women.
So let me be explicit. Prime Minister Morrison, you’re on notice. The women of Australia and plenty of men too have had enough. Enough of sexual abuse, violence, discrimination and harassment being ignored. The absence of an adequate response to Brittany Higgins, as well as your total disregard for the serious historic allegations of rape by one of your cabinet ministers has erupted fury. The absence of dignity and decency in your government’s treatment of women – inside and outside Parliament – has unleashed an organic uprising among women and men who are fed up. Fed up enough to come together and say enough.
On the 15th March 2021 thousands of Australians around the country are planning on travelling to Canberra to March 4 Justice. Others who can’t attend Canberra are organising events in cities and towns all around the country.
Enough is enough.