Labor has dialled up its criticisms of the federal government’s response to the women’s March4Justice, blasting Prime Minister Scott Morrison for suggesting that similar demonstrations in other countries had been “met with bullets”.
An angry Mr Morrison shot back at Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, accusing Labor of hypocrisy as both sides traded blows over mounting reports of sexual misconduct in Parliament.
“The Leader of the Opposition has engaged in a very unworthy and egregious slur,” Mr Morrison roared, in an ugly Question Time on Tuesday.
“A twisted attempt to try and pervert what has been said in good faith … he is proving himself unworthy of the office he even holds now, let alone the one he seeks to take.”
At issue was Mr Morrison’s response to Monday’s March4Justice, on the front lawn of Parliament House.
“It is good and right that so many are able to gather here in this way, whether in our capital or elsewhere, and to do so peacefully to express their concerns and their very genuine and real frustrations,” the PM said on Monday.
“Not far from here, such marches, even now, are being met with bullets, but not here in this country.”
— Tegan George (@tegangeorge) March 16, 2021
The comment elicited a furious response from Greens leader Adam Bandt, who called it “unbelievably appalling behaviour”.
Mr Albanese added his criticism on Tuesday, opening Question Time by asking whether Mr Morrison regretted his comments in response to more than 100,000 people joining the march in towns and cities across Australia.
He said the PM had suggested protesters “were lucky because in other countries they would be met by bullets”.
Mr Morrison slammed Mr Albanese for what he called an “egregious slur”, claiming his comments had been radically misrepresented.
“What issue does the Leader of the Opposition have with celebrating democracy?” the PM said.
Earlier in the day, Minister for Women Marise Payne defended the PM, saying “the observation about the opportunity to protest peacefully and safely in Australia is an important one”.
“Our democracy does provide Australians with that opportunity,” Senator Payne said.
Labor shadow minister for women Tanya Plibersek said Mr Morrison’s comments were “just not good enough”.
“I really think that Scott Morrison just doesn’t get it,” she said.
“We need our laws to change, and we need our culture to change. And I think the Prime Minister missed that – talking about how women should be grateful not to be shot when they’re marching for their rights on our streets.”
Labor accused of ‘glass houses’
On Monday, Mr Morrison had been asked again about former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’ claims that his office had “backgrounded” journalists with negative information about her boyfriend when her rape claims emerged.
Mr Morrison denied being aware of any such action.
Asked again on Tuesday by Labor MP Catherine King, Mr Morrison shrugged off the inquiry, saying again he had “no knowledge” of that.
Asked about his government’s response to claims of sexual assault claims within politics, Mr Morrison warned that Labor should be careful about “glass houses”.
It was a reference to explosive allegations, aired recently in a private Facebook group for Labor women, accusing unnamed senior politicians or party members of serious sexual assault and harassment.
“The Labor Party is not engaging in this issue in good faith. The Labor Party is simply trying to exact political opportunity from the terrible trauma and circumstances that staff face in this office,” Mr Morrison claimed.
“Even now, the Labor Party knows that there are allegations, raised about the conduct of staff and members on that side of the House.
“That’s a matter for them to deal with, to get their own house in order, but when they’re standing in glass houses, they should not be throwing these types of stones.”
Mr Albanese urged complainants to come forward and make formal reports, which he said will be fully investigated.
On Tuesday, Ms Plibersek made a similar plea.
“If you wish to make a complaint we have processes, you can make that complaint, and we will be with you,” she told ABC radio.
“You can go to the police if it’s a matter around assault. And we will be with you. We will support you.
“You can use our Labor Party internal processes, which have recently been strengthened. You can use the government’s new telephone line, where you can get advice about the options that are open to you. Either formal or informal mechanisms that you can use in your workplace.”
Labor politicians spoke in their weekly caucus meeting in Parliament of how their offices had been inundated with calls from the public, sharing personal stories of sexual assault.
MPs have asked for more training for their staff, in how to deal with and refer such reports to appropriate authorities.