An Australian member of a UN committee about discrimination against women has condemned Prime Minister Scott Morrison for saying it was a triumph that protesters outside Parliament House weren’t “met with bullets”.
But Mr Morrison is continuing to receive the support of Liberal Party politicians, including the Minister for Women.
His comments were in response to thousands of women who rallied outside Parliament House for the March 4 Justice protest on Monday.
“Not far from here, such marches, even now are being met with bullets, but not here in this country,” Mr Morrison told Parliament.
“This is a triumph of democracy when we see these things take place.”
The marches were to protest against gendered violence and to call for the government to respond to a 12-month-old report by the Australian Human Rights Commission, which examined the nature and prevalence of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.
Natasha Stott Despoja, a former Democrats senator who was appointed to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women last year, said she was “quite stunned” when she heard the Prime Minister’s remark.
“That is not the example that is required to celebrate the notions of liberal democracy,” she told Channel Seven.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg defended Mr Morrison’s comment.
“To be fair to the Prime Minister … he was championing Australia’s democracy, and he was championing the cause of those outside Parliament,” he said.
“I know people have taken pot shots at him, but the reality is he is providing the leadership that we need.”
But Ms Stott Despoja said whatever the intention, raising the prospect of violence was inappropriate.
“It was a poor choice of words but also, any references to such violence, whether the Treasurer says that it was well intended or not, was just completely inappropriate and saddening.”
Party lines split response
Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek said Mr Morrison continued to “profoundly miss the point”.
“That final comment that we should be grateful, that we are in a place that you don’t get shot for marching, was so off the mark,” she told the ABC.
“This is a moment when women are raising up their voices for change.”
Greens leader Adam Bandt said Mr Morrison’s statement was “despicable” and “appalling” and called on him to apologise.
“It’s time for men to start listening and start acting, it’s up to men now to change their behaviour.”
Minister for Women Marise Payne defended the Prime Minister.
“I think the observation about the opportunity to protest peacefully and safely in Australia is an important one,” she said.
“Our democracy does provide Australians with that opportunity.”
“Our role now is to own the problems, to own the failings, and most importantly to own the solutions – that is our focus.”
Liberal senator Sarah Henderson said she was “surrounded by wonderful Coalition men”.
“I think the Prime Minister was simply making the point that it’s very important in our country that we can protest, we all have a voice,” she said.
“Not just the 100,000 women who attended yesterday, but Australia’s 13 million girls and women. We should never take our democracy for granted.”