Tanya Plibersek says 'we have failed as a parliament' in a plea for cultural change for women

Opposition frontbencher Tanya Plibersek has given an impassioned speech criticising Prime Minister Scott Morrison's behaviour at a press conference, and calling for real change to tackle gendered violence.

Labor's spokesperson for women Tanya Plibersek.

Labor's spokesperson for women Tanya Plibersek. Source: AAP

In an impassioned speech to parliament, Labor MP Tanya Plibersek has questioned whether Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s tears were “all an act” at a press conference addressing the treatment of women in politics.

Speaking to the media in Canberra on Tuesday, Mr Morrison tried to apologise for his failings over the past month and commit to doing better for women.

But the prime minister's attempt at a mea culpa went awry when he accused a media organisation of harassment within its own office.


The media company has rejected the claim and Mr Morrison has since apologised, saying he had “no right to raise the issue”.

Ms Plibersek on Thursday said that while the press conference “started so well”, Mr Morrison's claim that News Corp was handling its own harassment complaint made people question his sincerity.

“He actually sounded like he finally got it. He was repeating back to us as we were listening, the things that he’d heard from women … in his family, in his office, in his social networks, the frustrations that so many women feel," Ms Plibersek, who is Labor's spokesperson for women, said in parliament.

“And then 10 minutes into the press conference, because he gets a question from a journalist, he just loses it again and makes us think, was it all an act? Were the tears all an act?”

Following the Tuesday press conference, the opposition had questioned why any woman would come forward with concerns if they knew their allegations were going to be aired on national television.

Ms Plibersek told parliament women’s tears over “the tragedy for Australian women today” are bubbling just below the surface.

“If we started crying about the women we know that have been raped and murdered and sexually assaulted and sexually harassed, if we started crying for the women we know this had happened to, we would never stop. We would never stop,” she said.

She mentioned Anita Cobby and Janine Balding, who were raped and murdered in Sydney in the 1980s, Eurydice Dixon who was found murdered in Melbourne’s Princes Park in 2018, and Hannah Clarke who was killed with her three children in 2020.

“I remember all of these women. We all do,” Ms Plibersek said.

“It takes more than tears. It takes legislative change. It takes culture change. It takes working with our young people from their earliest days.”

She questioned why sexual violence was one of the few categories of violent crime that’s actually on the increase.

“Despite everything we know, despite the truth, the brave women like Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins and Chanel Contos and Saxon Mullins ... despite the fact that these young women are getting up and telling their truth in their own words, sexual violence is one of the violent crime categories that’s increasing, and it’s increasing particularly among young people," she said.

“We have failed, as a parliament and as a community."

Ms Higgins’ allegations she was raped by a colleague inside Parliament House after a night out in 2019 has led to a review on workplace culture inside Parliament House by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.

Ms Jenkins has said she expects a broad range of people to come forward and tell their stories, including people in non-political roles.

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

4 min read
Published 26 March 2021 at 12:07pm
By Caroline Riches