As the government grapples with two rape claims, Australians protested in the capital and other cities on Monday, demanding justice for women and condemning sexism and unsafe workplace cultures.
Hundreds of women gathered outside Parliament House in Canberra, most of whom were dressed in black. “Justice for Women” and “Men, Own Your Guilt” were among the placards they bore.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison declined to address the crowd, and organizers refused to meet with him in his office.
“Now it’s up to the government to cross the line and come to us,” organizer Janine Hendry said.
She went on to state, “We will not be meeting behind closed doors.”
Morrison later assured Parliament that he understood the demonstrators’ dissatisfaction and concern. “It is not to say that this government or the many governments before us are not making good faith and sincere efforts. Those efforts are underway. “However, the outcomes seem to elude us,” he said.
Morrison is standing by Attorney-General Christian Porter, who is accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in 1988 when he was 17 years old. Porter refuted the argument. Last year, his accuser committed suicide after withdrawing a police report.
Separately, Defense Minister Linda Reynolds has been chastised for failing to provide sufficient assistance to a young employee who claims she was assaulted by a more senior colleague in the minister’s office in Parliament House in 2019.
Brittany Higgins felt forced to choose between reporting her claims to the police and pursuing her career. She resigned from her government job in January and filed a police complaint about her allegations.
“I was assaulted by a colleague inside Parliament House, and for so long it seemed like the people around me just cared about where it happened or what it meant for them,” a tearful Higgins addressed the Canberra audience.
“It was perplexing because these were my heroes. I’d devoted my whole life to them. They were members of my social circle, coworkers, and relatives. And then they began to treat me differently. I hadn’t been through a life-altering or traumatic experience. She went on to say, “I was a political issue.”
The Associated Press does not normally name suspected sexual harassment victims, but Higgins has opted to do so in the media.
The marches, which took place in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Hobart, coincided with Parliament’s first sitting since Porter’s accusation was made public in early March.
Reynolds has since apologised for referring to Higgins as a “lying cow” to her employees, saying that she was referring to Higgins’ assertion of insufficient assistance, not the rape accusation. In addition, the minister agreed to compensate Higgins with an unspecified amount.
Porter’s lawyers revealed on Monday that he is suing the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for defamation over a news story that made false claims against him, according to Porter’s lawyers. In a statement, ABC said that it would defend the action.
“Although he was not identified, the article made allegations against a senior Cabinet minister, and the attorney-general was easily recognizable as the target of the allegations by many Australians,” the lawyers said in a statement.
Opposition lawmakers have called on Morrison to open an independent investigation into Porter’s claims.
Morrison, on the other hand, claims the defamation lawsuit is the best place for investigating the accusations.
“Answers will be provided, and proof will be presented. And the matter can be properly resolved through our courts, as it should be, and I believe that is the path that best addresses the issue,” Morrison said.
Porters has been on mental health leave since March 3, when he addressed a press conference in which he denied raping the unnamed teen.
Since Higgins’ accusations, Reynolds has been on sick leave due to a heart problem.