Scott Morrison hijacked the National Women’s Safety Summit to brag about his government’s achievements on sexual harassment law.
This despite the fact that less than a week ago his government passed legislation that acted on only six of the 55 recommendations made in the Respect@Work report on sexual harassment.
In a 40-minute keynote speech, Mr Morrison proclaimed his compassion for women and children who have been subjected to male violence, and his determination to reduce the prevalence of such violence, and then spruiked his government’s alleged actions in defence of women, their children and their economic security.
Has Mr Morrison decided that demonstrating his contempt for women is an election-winning strategy?
Or does he believe women are so gullible, so short-sighted, so monumentally stupid, that we will believe a ham-fisted lie just because it was said by a Prime Minister wearing a sensitive tie to a Women’s Safety Summit.
Perhaps he does believe both these things. That would explain his otherwise inexplicable keynote speech on Monday morning.
His self-proclaimed passionate dedication to increasing respect for women rang hollow in the wake of his refusal to even contemplate an inquiry into the rape allegations against Christian Porter.
He has the full support of the Prime Minister, who waxed lyrical about his sympathy for rape survivors.
The Prime Minister also spoke about the importance of primary prevention, as if his government hadn’t so thoroughly misunderstood consent education that it became a national laughing stock when it released the ill-fated milkshake analogy video to the education curriculum.
Mr Morrison is the Prime Minister of a country where violent men kill one woman every week, where hundreds of thousands of women have no way to escape, and can’t afford to feed themselves or their children if they try.
Giving a self-aggrandising speech at a women’s safety summit after his government’s refusal to increase benefits actively participated in impoverishing single mothers (many of whom have escaped violent relationships) is almost an exercise in self-mockery.
A recent report from Equity Economics is one of many pieces of research that proves the direct link between poverty and women’s inability to escape violent partners, especially if they have children.
There are others. Too many others.
We’ve had national inquiries, senate inquiries, state government inquiries, a royal commission, regular data releases from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and countless academic studies. It is clear what is needed.
We need a significant investment in affordable housing.
We need proper economic support for women escaping violence.
We need long-term, well-funded, best practice behavioural change programs for violent men.
We need effective prevention education starting in early childhood and continuing through to senior school.
We need affordable child care so women can work in paid employment without being financially dependent on their abusers.
We need structural changes to the lack-of-justice system to give a viable alternative for women who are rightly afraid to report violence to police.
We need courts and legislation that will give women who want redress for sexual violence a better than three per cent chance of getting it.
We need particular support for First Nations women that is designed and implemented by First Nations people.
We need resourcing for women with disabilities who are too often targeted by predatory men.
We need to centre the children of dangerous men and give them their own trauma-informed advocates and counsellors.
What we do not need is another summit to discuss what we need to do about men’s violence against women in lieu of actually doing anything about men’s violence against women.
This is not to disparage the survivors and advocates and frontline workers who turned up (again) to the women’s safety summit this week, to give their expertise and knowledge (again) and swallow their rage and disgust (again) at having to do this (again), as they have so many times before.
They turn up (again) because, remarkably, they have not yet given up hope for change.
They deserve better than what they got from their Prime Minister on Monday morning.
They (and we) deserve a federal government capable of more than a mealy-mouthed press release in the face of a national crisis.
We all deserve a Prime Minister who can do more than fluff in indignation when called to account for his myriad of failings towards Australian women.
We all deserve a Prime Minister who won’t take a photo opportunity with the Australian of the Year and then refuse to listen to what she has to say on the very topic that won her that honour.
Thankfully, we also deserve – and got – in Grace Tame, an Australian of the Year who will not stay silent about hypocrisy or manipulation.
“I want to thank them for trusting me with their stories,” Mr Morrison said, as he read out excerpts of private letters in a ham-fisted attempt to rebuild his crashing approval rating with women.
“There is no excuse and sorry doesn’t cut it.”
He said, not once, but twice, with no irony, in a speech full of excuses and lacking any apologies. He clearly doesn’t know how right he was.
Jane Gilmore is a freelance journalist with a strong interest in campaigning against violence against women. She also founded The King’s Tribune