Friday, March 19, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

What women want
A week in which women raised their voices, and the government covered its ears

Image of a protest sign at Monday’s March 4 Justice in Perth.

A protest sign at Monday’s March 4 Justice in Perth. Image via Twitter

Here we are at the end of another week of women outlining what they want, and the male-dominated Morrison government failing to listen, offering platitudes and tone-deaf comments instead of the concrete action women are asking for. In the past 24 hours, several women have tried to make things even clearer, with new suggestions and calls. Prominent businesswomen Thérèse Rein and Lucy Turnbull last night used a joint public appearance to call for an independent complaints-handling facility, so that women in parliament can come forward without fear, and backed calls from Liberal MP Russell Broadbent – one of the only Coalition men who appears to be listening – for “gender impact statements” on all cabinet submissions, policies and legislation. (Broadbent has also urged the prime minister to convene a national summit of women’s organisations, to make recommendations to parliament on the pathway forward.) Female MPs want the parliamentary workplace cleaned up, with a new push for a cross-party group coming from Liberals, Labor, Greens and independents alike, and they would like, if possible, not to receive death threats, please. The prime minister is seemingly unable to keep up with the many brilliant ideas being put in front of him. So what else are women asking for?

There were many demands made on signs and in speeches at the marches that took place across the country on Monday, but the organisers were also careful to list some clear and easy-to-follow instructions for the government. March 4 Justice laid out four immediate demands in its 93,000-signature petition, which was given to female MPs to present in parliament this week: independent investigations into cases of gendered violence; the full implementation of the 55 recommendations in Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’s [email protected]” report; an increase in public funding for gendered-violence prevention; and a gender equality act. As organiser Janine Hendry pointed out to Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack in their tense corridor exchange, Jenkins’s report has been sitting on the attorney-general’s desk for 14 months without implementation. “We don’t want any more reports,” she said. “The women of Australia want some action.”

Women, it became pretty clear this week, don’t want an app with which to record sexual consent, as suggested by NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller yesterday, but they do want universal, compulsory consent education, according to Australian of the Year Grace Tame, psychologist-turned-Liberal-MP Fiona Martin and others. They also want reform to evidence rules in sexual assault cases, a trial run for a specialist sexual violence court and more funding to help women fleeing domestic violence – but they don’t want it to come from their own retirement savings. Queensland Women’s Legal Service chief executive Angela Lynch also wants a national summit, this one to end violence against women and children, while Antoinette Braybrook, chairperson of the National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services Forum, wants more funding to support First Nations women. 

Women still want answers regarding the two major allegations of sexual assault that have rocked parliament these past seven weeks. The Opposition did not let up in demanding those answers this week, with Labor frontbencher Catherine King asking the prime minister over and over whether he had bothered to look into the conduct of his staff, following former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’ allegation that his office had backgrounded against her loved ones. Many still want to know who in the PMO knew what and when about her alleged rape, though it’s likely Four Corners will provide those answers before the PM does, with Monday’s special set to explore exactly that subject. Women would like an inquiry into allegations against Attorney-General Christian Porter, though they’re unlikely to get that now that defamation proceedings are underway, but at the very least, they would like the prime minister to consider the possibility that Porter might have done what he has been accused of – and denied – and act accordingly.

Despite all this, Morrison still seems to be struggling to understand what it is women want here (perhaps he could ask Jen?), though in his defence, it’s been a long and gruelling week. This has been an incomplete list of what women want, but one might hope someone in the PM’s office is compiling these suggestions as they come along. Women want to be listened to, and they want an acknowledgement that someone is listening – one that doesn’t come with a reminder that they’re lucky they weren’t shot at. But they want more than to be told they’ve been heard: women want answers, funding and concrete action. As a number of Monday’s signs read, “Be grateful women want justice, not revenge.”

“While the change is welcomed, I think it’s pretty obvious to a lot of people that while it comes at a time when we’re dealing with right-wing extremism, it is being treated very contrary to what Muslim communities had to deal with.”

Labor MP and counter-terrorism academic Dr Anne Aly says the timing of ASIO’s changes to terrorism categorisation is “curious at best”, coming just as far-right extremism is being recognised as a major threat.

“The key point the prime minister was also making, in that very statement, was that he understood the frustration of the people who were demonstrating, he welcomed their call for greater action and he’s committed to that.”

Another day, another failed attempt to explain away Scott Morrison’s “met with bullets” comment, this time from Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

Christian Porter goes back to parliament
Christian Porter is still facing calls for an inquiry into allegations of sexual assault levelled against him, allegations he denies. But Porter has announced he will return to parliament in his role as the nation’s first law officer.

The amount spent by Australia on green initiatives during the coronavirus recovery, making it the worst performer of the world’s 50 largest economies, dwarfed by France’s US$57 billion, South Korea’s $54 billion and Germany’s $47 billion.

“Qantas workers who usually work on international routes will receive a $500-a-week wage payment well after the JobKeeper scheme ends, under the federal government’s controversial $1.2 billion aviation tourism support scheme.”

More than 7000 Qantas employees will continue to receive a wage payment until October, with Transport Workers’ Union national secretary Michael Kaine criticising the fact that the subsidy will only help some workers.

The list

“Director Neil Armfield has a special affinity for Benjamin Britten’s operas. His productions of Billy Budd and Peter Grimes, both here and overseas, were tours de force – as were all his stagings of Janacek operas, by the way. He manages to seamlessly blend gravitas, the moral dimension, dramatic acting and urgent staging into the modernist musical idiom. Armfield’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Britten, the opening night of this year’s Adelaide Festival, was not quite so successful … though Armfield has already taken this production to Toronto, Chicago and Houston before premiering it in Adelaide, it doesn’t seem to be honed by experience.”

“Towards the end of The Porn Report the authors refer to writer Angela Carter’s hope for pornography ‘as a critique of current relations between the sexes’ that might ‘begin to penetrate to the heart of the contempt for women that distorts our culture’. That’s a really lovely idea but I just don’t spot ‘Feminist Critique’ on the list of options between ‘Facials’ and ‘Gangbangs’. For all the variety, it’s remarkably the same (British academic Simon Hardy calls it the ‘commercial homogenisation of desire’) and it does not have a feminist feel. The men in porn are little more than scaffolding for their erections but it is the women who are the product, and who endure the discomfort, pain and humiliation.”

“For all the autofictional properties of He., Bail’s perplexity, his life-acceptance, does not come easy. Certainly there are Lerner–Knausgaard-esque references to current events – describing COVID-stricken Sydney, August 2020, Bail writes of ‘a great emptiness in broad daylight as if everyone had already died’. Yet He. is more Robert Musil than Rachel Cusk; more Joseph Roth than Philip. Bail has remarked, both in person and elsewhere – see, in particular, 2008’s The Pages – that it is hard, ‘though not impossible’ for the ‘applied psychology’ of first-person narrative to enter the realms of myth.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



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