Talk is cheap
What exactly did the PM hope to achieve in taking the keynote speech at the National Summit on Women’s Safety?
Scott Morrison – the man who earlier this year told women they were lucky not to be shot at for protesting against violence – has delivered the opening keynote at the National Summit on Women’s Safety, but his attempt at a heartfelt speech has been savaged online, not least by Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame. Having just voted against implementing most of the “Respect @ Work” report’s key recommendations, the PM praised his own government for passing last week’s legislation, and talked up the importance of stopping harassment (which his government refused to legislate a positive duty on employers to prevent). Morrison – who reportedly failed to read the letter containing allegations against his then attorney-general, Christian Porter – today referred to the “hundreds of letters” he had received from Australian women this year, and read some aloud. In his virtual address, Morrison – who in March refused to front-up to March4Justice protesters – said that he could feel the rage and fatigue coming through the letters. He said the correspondence confirmed “the intolerable interactions too many women have with the justice system”. But there was no mention of the fact that his department has again called off the investigation into who in his office knew about Higgins’ rape allegation, nor was there talk of the much-needed inquiry into Porter’s suitability for office. Morrison – after earlier offending some women by saying he was thinking of things “as a father” – decried the fact that “some men think they own women”, stating: “I don’t believe we can talk about women’s safety without talking about men.” In closing, Morrison – whose team seemingly included only one survivor (Tame) in last week’s roundtables, and seemingly failed to invite Higgins to the summit altogether – said that he wanted to hear from women about their perspectives and experiences. On the face of it, the PM said the right words in his speech. But his actions have betrayed him. What was the point of him speaking at all?
The sincerity of the government’s safety summit, announced during the period of damage control following Higgins’ bombshell allegations, has been called into question in recent days, and experts are demanding that the conference do more than pay lip-service to the endemic problem. Advocates are attempting to use the summit to ensure real action is taken and is backed by real funding. Today’s sessions included panels on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s experiences and the importance of economic security in escaping financial abuse, but questions have arisen about some of the other topics, along with some of the panellists, many of whom are far from experts in the field. There are concerns that housing for women fleeing violence was only added as an afterthought (housing advocacy group Everybody’s Home created its own online event on the subject), while others are concerned that welfare and its role in helping victims flee isn’t on the agenda at all. Tame herself has accused the summit of having a “comically narrow remit”, arguing that the summit is an extension of the government’s “pattern of denial, minimisation, ultimately dismissal of women’s issues”. Meanwhile, state ministers for women from across the country have today released a joint statement calling out the federal government for its past failures, with calls for more investment in housing and women’s legal services (ministers from Liberal governments were notably absent). The only two sessions that overlap in the entire two-day program, as Crikey’s Amber Schultz has noted, are one on coercive control/early intervention and one on the “Respect @ Work” report – two critical issues that surely demand their own time slot.
But it is the fact that the opening address was reserved for our tone-deaf prime minister that truly irkedadvocates today, and it has thrown into question the sincerity of the entire exercise. The government was no doubt trying to once again emphasise the seriousness with which it regards women’s issues by having the prime minister at the top of the bill. Morrison has by now had several opportunities to address the topic, but not one of his attempts at real talk has been backed up by real action, especially on the issues in his own backyard: the allegations of rape and cover-up concerning members of his own party. Scott Morrison loves a good speech, but he’s not fooling anyone. Words are meaningless without action – and they are just as meaningless when you repeatedly take action that falls well short of the mark, whether partially implementing anti-harassment recommendations, launching investigations only to place them on the backburner, or reading some letters from women while refusing to entertain the ones that inconvenience you.
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