Australians marched Monday in the capital and other cities demanding justice for women and denouncing dangerous work cultures and misogyny, after two rape allegations rocked the country’s government.
Hundreds of people, mostly women and dressed in black clothes, gathered outside Parliament in Canberra. They carried placards with slogans such as Justice for women and Men, take the blame.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused the organizers’ demand that he address the crowd, and they did not agree to meet behind closed doors, according to the organizers.
We have arrived at the front door, now it is up to the government to cross the threshold and come to us, said organizer Janine Hendry.
We will not meet behind closed doors, she added.
Hendry estimated that more than 100,000 people had turned out for 40 protest marches across the country.
Morrison later told Parliament that he shared the frustration and concern of the protesters. This does not imply that genuine, good faith efforts are not being made, either by this government or the many governments that have preceded us. Such efforts are being made. But the results still elude us, he said.
Morrison has defended Attorney General Christian Porter against an accusation that he raped a 16-year-old girl when he was 17 in 1988. Porter denied the allegation. His complainant committed suicide last year after withdrawing a complaint to police.
Separately, Defense Minister Linda Reynolds has been criticized for failing to adequately support a young female staffer who reported being raped by a senior colleague in the minister’s office in Parliament in 2019.
Brittany Higgins said she felt she had to choose between reporting her allegations to the police or continuing her career. She left her government post in January and filed a complaint with the police.
I was raped by a colleague in Parliament, and for a long time it seemed that people around me only cared about where it happened or what it might mean for them, Higgins said through tears to the crowd in Canberra.
It was very disconcerting because these people were my idols. I had dedicated my life to them. They were my social network, my peers and my family. And suddenly they were treating me differently. I was not a person who had been through a traumatic, life-changing event. It was a political issue, he added.
The Associated Press does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual harassment, but Higgins has chosen to identify herself to the media.
The protests, which also took place in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Hobart, coincide with the first sitting of Parliament since the allegation against Porter was made public in early March.
Reynolds has apologized for describing Higgins to her staff as a lying cow and said she was referring to Higgins’ allegation of lack of support, not the rape allegation. The minister also agreed to pay Higgins an undisclosed sum as compensation.
Porter’s lawyers announced Monday that he will sue the Australian Broadcasting Corp. for defamation over an article that, they claimed, made false allegations against the secretary. ABC said in a statement it would defend itself against the lawsuit.
Opposition lawmakers called on Morrison to set up an independent investigation into the allegations against Porter.
But Morrison said the defamation case was the proper forum in which to look into the allegations.
Allegations will be made, evidence will be presented. And that matter can be properly addressed in our courts, where it should be, and that is the strategy that I think best addresses the matter, Morrison said.
Porter has been on leave since March 3 for mental health reasons. He held a press conference that day denying that he raped the complainant, whose name has not been made public.
Reynolds also has been on medical leave for a heart condition since Higgins came forward with his allegations.