Opinion Jane Gilmore: Scott Morrison has ignored women. It shows in the streets, and it will show at the polls
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Jane Gilmore: Scott Morrison has ignored women. It shows in the streets, and it will show at the polls

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Across the country on Monday, tens of thousands of women marched to protest against gendered injustice.

They left the jobs that don’t pay them enough.

They left their unequal burden of unpaid work.

They left schools and universities and homes to protest, once again, things women have been protesting about for decades.

The fact that women are not safe at work. That they are not safe on their way home or after they get home. That they are not safe in childhood or old age.

That wealthy white men who show such contempt for women’s lives, bodies, safety and futures are the ones writing the laws and policies that govern us.

There were spine-chilling moments when Grace Tame, Brittany Higgins and Saxon Mullins all spoke at different rallies, as they have spoken so many times before.

We need the courage of those women because even now, sexual assault is still something women have to exhaust themselves trying to explain to the men who make laws that protect rapists and fail victims.

As Ms Higgins said to the thousands of people gathered outside Parliament House: “We are all here today not because we want to be here, because we have to be here.”

Australian of the Year Grace Tame at the Women’s March 4 Justice in Hobart. Photo: AAP

The Prime Minister, after weeks of abject failure to understand the cause or effects of a problems he’s been unable to spin away, was stuck in Parliament House and in a blind alley of his own devising.

He could not, as many other politicians did, join the protest. Footage of him being booed or hounded off the grass by thousands of enraged women would follow him for the rest of his life.

He couldn’t fool the organisers of the march into giving him an out by meeting with him in private.

So, all he could do was claim to be busy and hide from the consequence of his inability to understand and respond to the stories of gendered sexual assault that have flooded the nation.

After the protest was over, he stood up in Question Time and told Parliament how great it is that women can protest without being shot.

Then, he denied, obfuscated, evaded or claimed victimisation in response to questions about his treatment of Brittany Higgins and Christian Porter.

That he cannot even guess at the effect this had on women – who might once have voted for him – is a staggering political failure.

He appears to believe we won’t care or notice that Australia holds footballers to a higher standard than he has for his cabinet ministers.

Scott Morrison is often described as a “clever politician”, an appellation I’ve always found bewildering.

To me he was a Prime Ministerial Steven Bradbury, skating through to the top job after the front runners crashed into an undignified pile-up on the last corner.

Then, in the 2019 election, he again skated to a one-seat majority – more due to Bill Shorten’s ineptitude and the Labor Party’s policy overreach, than any real skill of his own.

Mr Morrison has always shown an unwavering contempt for voters. Robodebt. Sports Rorts. Water-gate. Aged care. The massive overpayment to billionaire Liberal Party donors for land at the Western Sydney airport. Cutting the National Audit Office budget after it uncovered many of these rorts.

It’s a patina of corruption, accompanied by obdurate refusal to acknowledge wrongdoing.

Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins delivered a powerful speech to a supportive crowd in Canberra. Photo: AAP

Despite all this, relying on spin to distract a jaded constituency kept Mr Morrison within sight of another scrape-over-the-line election win.

It speaks volumes about his understanding of sexual assault as ‘just another PR problem‘ that he employs the same approach, thinking it will succeed.

Christian Porter is the Attorney-General.

When he’s not ripping the national rape and domestic violence helpline from experts and handing it to private companies, or abolishing the Family Court, Mr Porter is also responsible for recommending topics for inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission.

Australian of the Year Grace Tame, in her stunning address to the National Press Club, called for reform of rape laws.

“We have eight different state and territory jurisdictions and eight different definitions of consent,” Ms Tame said.

“We need to agree on something as absolute as what consent is. We need a uniform, state and federal, national standard definition of consent.”

She is the Australian of the Year, given this honour because of her advocacy for survivors of sexual abuse. She made a public call for law reform.

How can the Attorney-General ignore her? How can this particular Attorney-General respond? Can a man accused of rape convene an inquiry into the definition of consent? Can he refuse to do so?

Is he going to return to Parliament and answer questions (under parliamentary privilege) about this? It’s a completely untenable situation and Mr Morrison cannot simply manage it away by offering half-price plane tickets to marginal seats.

Mr Porter – in case you have forgotten – has every other article vetted by defamation lawyers, and has strongly, vehemently and/or adamantly denied the allegation that he brutally raped a girl in 1988.

Protecting his political position by keeping his friends and enemies close will not work for Mr Morrison this time.

The groundswell of rage is not confined to the marginalised women and Labor voters Mr Morrison deems so irrelevant.

Women from the leafy suburbs also remember Australia’s future leaders grabbing them, forcing them and hurting them.

Wealth and privilege are no protection from being too afraid to walk home or too afraid to go home.

From the male-dominated cabinet to child care (which is still seen as a women’s issue, rather than the parents’ issue it actually is) to superannuation to the gender pay gap to domestic abuse to sexual harassment and now rape – the Morrison government has comprehensively ignored the women he needs to vote for him, if he is going to win another election.

Women, despite his apparent belief, are not stupid.

We will not forget. We will not be distracted.

And we vote.

All 10 million of us.

  • For confidential support and services around sexual assault, contact 1800 RESPECT online or by phone on 1800 737 732. If you or someone you know needs help contact Life Line on 13 11 14

Jane Gilmore is a freelance journalist with a strong interest in campaigning against violence against women. She also founded The Kings Tribune

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