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Womens’ March for Justice: Thousands say “enough is enough”

Thousands of protesters gathered at Town Hall to call for justice. Photo: Allison Hore

By ALLISON HORE

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Sydney today to stand against gender discrimination and sexual violence. The mass demonstration comes following reports of alleged sexual assault, misconduct and abuse by Australian politicians and parliamentary staffers.

The rally in Sydney was just one of 40 March for Justice demonstrations across the country in major cities and regional centers. The rallies were organised just a week ago following Attorney General Christian Porter’s admission he was the subject of a 1988 rape allegation, which he denies.

Crowds had already started to form at Town Hall almost an hour before the rally’s midday start. And, by the time speeches began, all of Town Hall Square and the part of George Street in front of Town Hall were filled with protesters.

While protests in the Greater Sydney Area continue to be capped at 500 people, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard signed a last minute exemption to the public health order to allow 10,000 people to attend Sydney rally. NSW Police estimate between 7,000 to 10,000 showed up. 

Following a number of speeches, the huge crowd marched up Park Street and through Hyde Park towards NSW Parliament House. 

Abuse in NSW parliament

Addressing the crowd in front of parliament house former NSW Liberal Party staffer Dhanya Mani, who alleges she was abused by a senior staffer, said she was “so angry.” She said the march was not just about Scott Morrison or men, but “it is about every person in a parliamentary building who stood by and did nothing.”

“Every single one of them is accountable, every single one of them has enabled the suffering of every woman I know who has been abused walking home, at work, on the street and throughout their lives,” she said.

“We deserve better.” 

Jenny Leong addresses the crowd outside Parliament house. Photo: Allison Hore

Pointing to parliament house behind her, Jenny Leong, Greens member for Newtown, said sexual harassment in parliament is not just a “Canberra problem.”

“Politicians, staffers and interns and volunteers and journalists, and others, are being harassed and intimidated and assaulted, and we need to say enough is enough in this chamber or in any chamber of the parliament,” she said.

“So together, I say this, today we march for the survivors. The ones that can be here and march with us and the ones that are not able to be with us today. We say that we much for you.”

By the time the speakers outside Parliament House finished, the final protesters had reached Macquarie Street. Closing out the demonstration, the crowd enthusiastically sang a rendition of Helen Reddy’s song “I Am Woman.”

Ms. Leong said it’s important that women and allies from across the political spectrum come together and be “uncompromising” in their demands for justice. She said while some of her colleagues took “a bit of convincing” to join the march, it was worthwhile they did.

“While I might be a member of the Greens, that there are toxic masculinity problems in every political party in this country,” she said.

“And I want to acknowledge and pay a shoutout to my parliamentary colleagues from the Labor party and from the Liberal party and from the National party who are marching with us today.”

On the morning of the march the Sydney Morning Herald reported that neither NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian or leader of the opposition Jodi McKay would be making an appearance at the rally. Asked at an unrelated press conference why she did not attend the rally, Ms. Berejiklian said she had to work.

“For every woman that marches, there are thousands of others who support the cause but who, because of work or family commitments, can’t get to the march and I put myself in that category,” she said.

Though she did not speak at the rally, Ms. McKay made an appearance and mingled with the crowd outside Town Hall. 

A number of other members of the NSW Government, crossbench and opposition- including Nationals party leader John Barilaro- also turned up to show solidarity with marchers.

A national movement

Protest organisers estimate over 100,000 people marched in the 40 rallies which took place across the country today.

In Canberra, the thousands of protesters who gathered outside federal parliament heard Brittany Higgins, a former Liberal party staffer who alleges she was raped by a coworker inside minister Linda Reynolds’ office, share her story. 

She encouraged victims of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace or in schools to speak up about what happened to them and “own their story” and “free” themselves “from the stigma of shame.”

“I encourage each and every one of you to set boundaries for yourself and be ruthless in your defence of them. Speak up, share your truth and know that you have a generation of women ready, willing and able to support you,” she said. 

“Together, we can bring about real, meaningful reform to the workplace culture inside Parliament House and, hopefully, every workplace, to ensure the next generation of women can benefit from a safer and more equitable Australia.”

The man at the center of Ms. Higgins’ allegation has not yet been charged with any crime.

Responding to the protest outside parliament, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has been criticised for his lack of action towards Christian Porter and in dealing with Brittany Higgins’ attacker, did not have a lot to say. He instead pointed abroad to countries where protesters might be killed by authorities for taking to the streets.

“This is a vibrant liberal democracy, Mr Speaker, not far from here, such marches, even now, are being met with bullets, but not here in this country, Mr Speaker,” said Mr. Morrison.

Mr. Morrison said he had offered to speak with protest organisers in a private meeting but they declined on the grounds they believed he should make an address publicly.

Signs called Christian Porter a “liar.” Photo: Allison Hore

The man at the center of the rally cries, attorney general Christian Porter, used the moment to announce he has begun defamation proceedings against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan. A statement from his office claims “the article he sues on made false allegations against him in relation to a person he met when he was a teenager.” 

Although Mr. Porter was not named in the article, his office claims “the attorney-general was easily identifiable to many Australians as the subject of the allegations.”

 

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