'Enough is enough': Weeks after rape allegations shook Australia's halls of power came a public reckoning

Thousands of people have joined more than 40 Women's March4Justice rallies across the nation demanding an end to gendered violence and inequality.

Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins at the March 4 Justice rally in Canberra.

Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins at the March 4 Justice rally in Canberra. Source: Getty

One month ago, Brittany Higgins broke years of silence to announce her alleged rape inside Australia's halls of power. 

On Monday, she bravely returned to the lawns of Parliament House

The former Liberal Party staffer was not expected to speak at the rally, but she says she did so out of "necessity" and in the hopes of protecting other women from sexual violence. 

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"We are all here today not because we want to be here, but because we have to be here," Ms Higgins said. 

"We fundamentally recognise the system is broken, the glass ceiling is still in place, and there are significant failings in the power structures within our institutions. 

"We are here because it is unfathomable that we are still having to fight this same stale, tired fight." 

Brittany Higgins speaks at the March4Justice event in Canberra.
Brittany Higgins speaks at the March4Justice event in Canberra. Source: AAP


That fight has dogged news headlines for several weeks, with allegations of sexual assault levelled against senior government ministers renewing long-held concerns over the treatment of women and workplace culture in Parliament House. 

"I was raped inside Parliament House by a colleague and for so long it felt like the people around me only cared because of where it happened and what it might mean for them," Ms Higgins said in her speech. 

"It was so confusing because these people were my idols. I had dedicated my life to them. They were my social network, my colleagues and my family.

"And suddenly they treated me differently."



Monday's March4Justice protest was set up in the wake of Ms Higgins reports of her alleged rape by a male colleague in March 2019, and the historical rape allegation against Attorney-General Christian Porter, which he strongly denies. 

But, as Ms Higgins said, her story had served as a painful reminder for women that "if it can happen in Parliament House, it can truly happen anywhere”.

Now, women and allies across the country are saying "enough is enough".

Protests attend the Womens March 4 Justice Rally on 15 March, 2021 in Canberra.
Protests attend the Womens March 4 Justice Rally on 15 March, 2021 in Canberra. Source: Getty


Thousands join more than 40 rallies across Australia

Thousands of women, men and children marched in over 40 rallies held across the nation, including in major cities Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart on Monday. 

The "uprising" aimed to shine a spotlight on gendered violence in Australia. In Canberra, a petition with 94,000 signatures addressed to Prime Minister Scott Morrison was accepted by Labor MP Tanya Plibersek and Greens Senator Larissa Waters, who attended the rally. 

The petition has four immediate requests for action: independent investigations into all cases of gendered violence, full implementation of the 55 recommendations in the Australian Human Rights Commission's , the lifting of public funding for gendered violence prevention and a federal Gender Equality Act. 

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young (R) hugs former government staffer Brittany Higgins (L) during the rally in front of Parliament House on 15 March, 2021.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young (R) hugs former government staffer Brittany Higgins (L) during the rally in front of Parliament House on 15 March, 2021. Source: AFP


Earlier on Monday, organisers rejected Mr Morrison's invitation to meet privately in Parliament House after he declined to attend the Canberra rally in person. 

"We have already come to the front door, now it's up to the government to cross the threshold and come to us. We will not be meeting behind closed doors," founder Janine Hendry wrote on Twitter. 

"More than 100,000 women and allies from every walk of life are standing up to speak. How could meeting with just three women be enough?"

Mr Morrison was later asked in Question Time why he chose not to attend the rally. He responded by addressing his earlier remarks that he would have been happy to meet with the organisers in private. 

"They would have represented the views more broadly of those who are attending marches around the country today. Very happy to have met them in my office," he said. 

"That offer to meet them was provided in good faith but I respect their right to decline that invitation and I've set out as best as I can in this place the issues that I would have referred to and advised those who came. But principally I would have welcomed the opportunity to have listened to the issues they would have liked to have raised directly."



Labor leader Anthony Albanese attended the rally with a contingent of colleagues, along with Greens and independents and about 15 coalition MPs and senators. 

Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson was among them. 

"The safety of women in every workplace around Australia matters - including in Parliament House - this is a very important cause," she told SBS News. 

Member for Denison Andrew Wilkie holds up a sign reading "Enough is enough!" during Question Time in the House of Representatives on 15 March, 2021
Member for Denison Andrew Wilkie holds up a sign reading "Enough is enough!" during Question Time in the House of Representatives on 15 March, 2021 Source: Getty


Ms Plibersek told SBS News the time demands cultural change. 

"Today women are saying enough is enough. This is a time that demands legislative reform, it's a time that demands cultural change," she said.  

Ms Waters said the fight is far from over. 

"We won't give up ... this fight is far from over. We are just getting started. We need to end violence against women and their children, we need to end gender inequality, we need to stop the sexual harassment and assault."

It's time Australia's leaders 'stop sidestepping accountability'

In her speech, Ms Higgins questioned whether politicians can be trusted to address sexual harassment and assault in the community “if they aren’t committed to addressing these issues in their own offices".

She said Australia's leaders "should be the exemplar, the gold standard" but "sadly, this just isn't the case".

“If they aren’t committed to addressing these issues in their own offices, what confidence can the women of Australia have that they will be proactive in addressing this issue in the broader community,” Ms Higgins said.

“This isn’t a political problem. This is a human problem. We’ve all learned over the past few weeks just how common gendered violence is in this country.

“It’s time our leaders on both sides of politics stop avoiding the subject and sidestepping accountability.”

Brittany Higgins is pictured with Women's March 4 Justice founder Janine Hendry.
Brittany Higgins is pictured with Women's March 4 Justice founder Janine Hendry. Source: AFP


Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O'Neil reiterated the chants of protesters, saying "enough is enough". 

"We say to the men inside this place who are drunk on power, and those around the country who yield their power more privately - don't think you have, or you will, get away with it," she said. 

'Women will no longer be silent'

Such calls for change reverberated around the country.

Eliza Coombes, who attended the rally in Hobart, said she was sick of "having a government that clearly doesn't care about women, as much as they do men". 

"I am sick of myself and my friends being frightened when we walk alone at night... I am sick of having politicians accused of foul acts and never seeing any real consequences," she told SBS News. 

"... that is why I am here today."

Hobart rally attendee Eliza Coombes.
Hobart rally attendee Eliza Coombes. Source: SBS


Victoria's Minister for Women Gabrielle Williams, who attended Monday's march in Melbourne, said the event proved women were no longer willing to remain silent about their experience of sexual violence. 

“What we’re seeing now is the community sending a message that they’re ready to have this conversation publicly. More than ready, they’re eager to have the conversation now,” she said.

“Obviously [the march] has been triggered by a series of events in Canberra, but it’s been latched onto because every woman has a story to tell, most of them tear-stained.

“I hope it brings these issues out into the light and brings a collective understanding of these issues … that then sees us take them more seriously.”

Australian of the Year Grace Tame welcomed the “paradigm shift” in normalising conversations around sexual abuse.

Speaking in Tasmania, Ms Tame called for attendees to take action and stand up to abuse when they saw it, saying an individual person’s contribution can have a powerful domino effect.

Grace Tame pictured in the crowd at a rally in Hobart on 15 March, 2021.
Grace Tame pictured in the crowd at a rally in Hobart on 15 March, 2021. Source: SBS


She said making noise was the start of the solution.

“When an issue that has been shrouded in darkness for such a long time is suddenly thrust into the light, there's widespread shock and disbelief over how something so evil could happen, and not just happen, but happen so ubiquitously,” Ms Tame said.

"And the answer is plain and simple - silence. Evil thrives in silence.

“Behaviour unspoken, behaviour ignored, is behaviour endorsed.” 

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, you can call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit .


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8 min read
Published 15 March 2021 at 8:00pm
By Emma Brancatisano
Source: SBS