Pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to come out and face thousands of protesters who will march against gender inequality and sexual assault at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday.
But despite several female Coalitions MPs saying they will join the march, Mr Morrison has given no sign of changing his mind.
He is instead sticking to his offer of a private meeting with rally organisers – an offer that has been soundly rejected.
On Monday morning, multiple Labor MPs backed the March 4 Justice rallies that will take place across Australia, and urged Mr Morrison to attend in person. The Canberra event will be held on the front lawn of Parliament House, a short walk from the Prime Minister’s office.
“Too much of what’s been happening and the terrible allegations of sexual assault, it’s all been happening in silence behind closed doors,” said Susan Templeman, the Labor member for Macquarie.
“This is the very day for the Prime Minister to come out, lift the veil on this, make it transparent.”
Patrick Gorman, the member for Perth, said it was “pretty reasonable” for Mr Morrison to meet the organisers outside Parliament.
“It’s not like they’re asking him to jump on a plane,” he said.
The move for the March 4 Justice rallies against gender-based violence began after claims by former Liberal adviser Brittany Higgins she was raped by a male colleague in 2019 emerged a month ago.
Less than a fortnight later, Attorney-General Christian Porter identified himself as the Cabinet minister at the centre of a separate rape allegation. Mr Porter denies the claim.
On Monday, Mr Porter launched defamation action against ABC’s Four Corners and journalist Louise Milligan over the allegations.
But the plague of sexual misconduct allegations emerging from Canberra is not unique to the Coalition.
On Sunday, News Corp revealed shocking allegations from a private Facebook group by current and former Labor staffers about unnamed men in their own party, including married men forcing unwanted sexual contact.
Labor’s shadow minister for women, Tanya Plibersek said it made her “terribly sad and sorry” to know female staffers had suffered sexual harassment.
“We all need to do better,” she said.
Several Coalition women have said they will attend Monday’s march. They include senators Jane Hume and Sarah Henderson, and MP Bridget Archer.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese will also attend and has encouraged women in the Labor Party to come forward with their stories of sexual misconduct by fellow male colleagues.
“There are processes that are available,” he said.
However, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham and Trade Minister Dan Tehan said they would follow Mr Morrison’s suit and not attend the March 4 Justice rally.
“I would encourage the rally organisers to reconsider their refusal to meet with the Prime Minister,” Senator Birmingham said.
Mr Tehan told the ABC that he hoped rally co-organiser and Melbourne academic Janine Hendry would reconsider her decision to reject the PM’s offer of a private meeting.
“The government is very keen to sit down and talk with Janine and hopefully she’ll be able to arrange or find a time to be able to do that with the Prime Minister,” he said.
Earlier on Monday, Ms Hendry confronted Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack in the Parliament House press gallery, telling him “the women of Australia want some action”.
— Tegan George (@tegangeorge) March 14, 2021
Ms Hendry also challenged Mr McCormack about the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report in sexual harassment in workplaces. It was submitted to Mr Porter 12 months ago.
“We have not seen any implementation of the recommendations that were in that report, and … it was pretty scathing,” she said.
“So when you tell me that you’re willing to look at it, I’m going to tell you I want some action. And the women of Australia want some action. We’re drawing a line in the sand right here right now.
“I’m sorry, it is time, and it is time now. We don’t want any more reports, we want change and we want change now.”
Earlier, Ms Hendry stood by her decision to reject a private meeting.
“The Prime Minister’s offer has elicited a strong response and a wide range of views which we have listened to. The overwhelming majority of views said ‘no’,” she said.
“We have already come to the front door, it’s up to the government to cross the threshold and come to us.”
On Sunday, Minister for Women Marise Payne, who said she will not attend the march, made a separate offer to meet with rally organisers.
That, too, was rejected.