Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pledged to sit down with a group of women behind nationwide protests against gender inequality as a massive demonstration comes to the front door of Parliament House.
But protest organisers have rejected the offer and say the PM and Minister for Women should face them – and thousands of other women – in public.
“We have already come to the front door, now it’s up to the government to cross the threshold and come to us,” march spokeswoman Janine Hendry said on Monday morning.
“Women of Australia do not need more meetings or reports by expert bodies on what needs to be done to end gendered violence.
“We do need systemic change. And that starts at the top – in Parliament House.”
The Morrison government and the Opposition have agreed to not call any division votes in Parliament during Monday’s protest, to allow politicians to attend the event.
But Minister for Women Marise Payne won’t be attending the march, The New Daily understands.
Senator Payne initially said she would receive the women’s petition by “via correspondence”. But in a change of heart on Sunday, the senator offered to host a separate meeting with the women leading the March 4 Justice rallies.
Protest organisers initially indicated they would accept the government’s offers to meet.
Ms Hendry said organisers had considered the offer from Senator Payne and the PM and had consulted with women who are attending the march.
“The Prime Minister’s offer has elicited a strong response and a wide range of views which we have listened to,” she said.
“Overwhelming majority of views said no (to the offer of a private meeting).”
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Ms Hendry, a Melbourne academic, told The New Daily she was hopeful Ms Payne and other politicians would change their minds about attending.
More than 100,000 people are expected to march, dressed in black, at 40 events across the country.
Mr Morrison said he was “happy to meet with a delegation” in his office on Monday afternoon, but confirmed he won’t be attending the protest.
“I haven’t had a habit of going out to do any marches when they’ve come to Canberra, because as Prime Minister, when you’re in Canberra, it’s a very busy day,” he said.
“But I’m very happy to receive a delegation.”
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has also snubbed the event, telling panellists on ABC’s Insiders on Sunday morning that he didn’t have 10 minutes to listen to the crowds protesting about gender inequality.
“I believe if you make commitments, then you should stick to those. But I appreciate that this is an important issue,” Mr McCormack told the program.
Host David Speers asked, “Are you seriously saying you won’t have 10 minutes to go and listen to the women who are coming to Canberra?”
“No, I’ve got meetings all day,” Mr McCormack replied.
Ms Hendry said that the PM “needs to hear the voices of the women that are marching”.
“I’d like to harness their collective anger and frustration and I will certainly be passing that on to the Prime Minister,” she said.
“I’d also like to talk to him about the things he has the power to do, right here and right now.”
The March 4 Justice group’s demands include:
- An independent investigation into sexual assault allegations and misconduct by members of Parliament
- A national strategy for producing deep, cultural change in workplaces, as well as political and criminal justice systems.
The series of marches were sparked by a tweet posted by Ms Hendry last month, in which she proposed “extremely disgruntled women” form a ring in protest outside Parliament House after former Liberal adviser Brittany Higgins alleged she was raped by a male colleague in 2019.
Ok here’s my thought-is it possible to form a ring of people around the perimeter of Parl Hse? Then all of us extremely disgruntled women could travel to Canberra on March 8 and form a ring linking arms and with our backs turned toward the parliament and stand in silent protest.2
— 💧Janine Hendry (@janine_hendry) February 24, 2021
Less than a fortnight later, Attorney-General Christian Porter identified himself as the Cabinet minister at the centre of a rape allegation. Mr Porter denies the claim.
Ms Hendry said there had been a “landslide of anger” about the treatment of women.
“Yes, this is about the government’s response to sexual assault and harassment, but fundamentally the issue is about equity,” she said.
“If we were perceived as human beings with equal rights and responsibilities, this kind of stuff wouldn’t be happening.”
— Fresh Creative (@fresh_georgia) March 14, 2021
Meanwhile, gender equality campaign groups and family violence experts have signed on to a joint statement calling for policymaking in key areas aimed at making Australia a safer place for women.