Thousands gather at the March4Justice demonstration in Melbourne on Monday. Source: AAP

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Thousands of women march across Australia demanding an end to violence and inequality

Huge demonstrations are taking place across Australia as part of the women's March4Justice. Catch all the action here on the SBS News live blog.

Thousands gather at the March4Justice demonstration in Melbourne on Monday. Source: AAP

Published , updated 15 March 2021, 5:37 pm
By SBS
15 March 2021, 5:37 pm

That's it from the SBS News blog

Thanks for joining us - that's it from the SBS News blog. 

To recap the day's events, we've seen thousands join women's marches across the country to bring attention to concerns over gendered violence and misogyny in Australia. 

The March4Justice was timed for the return of Parliament in Canberra, and provoked by recent sexual assault allegations that continue to loom over the government.

The calls for change from those attending the rallies reverberating around the country. 

Earlier, former political staffer and sexual assault survivor Brittany Higgins delivered an emotional speech calling for politicians of all stripes to take action on sexual harassment and abuse. 

Australian of the Year Grace Tame was another to speak out on the need for change.

You can read more about those speeches here:

Also, make sure to tune into SBS News website for all the latest updates. 

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15 March 2021, 5:07 pm

Female MPs demand change to treatment of women

Female politicians from across the political aisle attended the women's march outside Parliament.

Here's what some of them had to say about why they wanted to be at the event:

Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson:

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

Labor MP Tanya Plibersek:

"Today women are saying enough is enough - this is a time that demands legislative reform - it's a time that demands culture change."

Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe:

"We have had enough - we all feel that injustice that is going on in this country against women, particularly First Nations women."

Greens Senator Larissa Waters:

"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."

Independent MP Helen Haines:

"We need women in leadership to stand up to come forward and stand in solidarity."

15 March 2021, 4:35 pm

Lauren Woodbridge speaks of 'concern' for daughter's safety

Lauren Woodbridge attended the women's march outside Parliament with her young daughter.

She said the ongoing concerns around gendered violence in Australia remained one of her deepest concerns for her daughter's future. 

"It's kind of sad that my greatest concern doesn’t have to be she will do well in life, it's will she be personally attacked," she told SBS News.

She also described the spotlight placed on recent sexual assault allegations inside Parliament as "beyond disgusting".

"It's beyond disgusting, how is this even possible in such a supposedly balanced western civilisation." 

Source: Ben Patrick, SBS News

15 March 2021, 4:22 pm

'We have to be heard and this is an opportunity to do this'

Carol Cooke told SBS News her decision to attend the women's march in Canberra was about ensuring that women's voices are heard.

Ms Cooke said she's be "disappointed" by the government's recent handling of sexual assault allegations, including Mr Morrison's decision not to attend the rally.

"If we don't stand up for something like this - we have to be heard and this is an opportunity to do this," she said.

Source: Ben Patrick SBS News

15 March 2021, 3:43 pm

'I am sick of being frightened when we walk alone at night'

Eliza Coombes earlier attended the women's march in Hobart venting her frustration about the failure to protect women against gendered violence and sexual assault. 

"I am sick of myself and my friends being frightened when we walk alone at night," she told SBS News. 

"I am sick of having a government that clearly doesn’t care about women, as much as they do men.

"I am sick of having politicians accused of foul acts and never seeing any real consequences."

Source: Sarah Maunder, SBS News

15 March 2021, 3:18 pm

Scott Morrison questioned on calls for independent inquiry into Christian Porter

Mr Morrison has also been asked about ongoing calls to launch a independent inquiry into a historical rape allegation made against Attorney-General Christian Porter, which he vehemently denies. 

Tanya Plibersek: "Why won't the Prime Minister establish an independent inquiry into the sexual assault allegations against his Attorney-General?"

Mr Morrison: 

"There was one rule of law for every single Australian in this country. Those opposite may jeer about that. They may heckle about that. This is a fundamental principal that every single Australian faces the same law as any other Australian, Mr Speaker. 

"Attorney-General, Mr Speaker, has announced that in private capacity he is perusing a defamation action against those who have raised those issues. That matter will be considered where it should, in a court of law. The arguments we made, the evidence will be presented. And that matter can be rightly addressed through our courts where it should be and that's the approach which I think best addresses the matter."

15 March 2021, 3:12 pm

Zali Steggall: 'to quote Brittany Higgins - the system is broken'

Independent MP Zali Steggall to Scott Morrison: 

"To quote Brittany Higgins, the system is broken. In your own words just now you want to see people safe. You have the power being in government today make all Australians, especially members of parliament, liable for and protected from sexual harassment in the workplace by supporting the sex discrimination amendment bill introduced to the parliament this morning. Will you do so? If your answer is we're working on it, that is not good enough?"

Mr Morrison:

"The Government is committed to ensuring Australia's legal frameworks are effective in preventing and responding to sexual harassment. The question of how best to address sexual assault which is the subject of your bill should be informed by the findings of the inquiries into sexual assault allegations that have been announced."

15 March 2021, 3:08 pm

Scott Morrison responds to Brittany Higgins claim his media team 'discredited' her loved ones

Labor's Catherine King has asked Scott Morrison about claims his media team acted to 'undermine' and 'discredit' Brittany Higgins "loved ones".

"Today Brittany Higgins said, “I watched as the Prime Minister of Australia publicly apologised to me through the media, while privately his media team effectively undermined and discredited my loved ones.”

Mr Morrison said he had "no knowledge" and "would never instruct" that type of behaviour.

"Thank you, Mr Speaker. I have no knowledge of that and would never instruct that, Mr Speaker. I would never instruct such a thing, Mr Speaker. I would never do that, Mr Speaker. The apology offered to Brittany Higgins in this place was sincere and was genuine and I'm happy to restate it."

15 March 2021, 3:00 pm

Scott Morrison questioned on 'lying cow' slur against Brittany Higgins

Scott Morrison has now been asked how he could maintain confidence in Defence Minister Linda Reynolds after she called Brittany Higgins ‘a lying cow’.

Senator Reynolds - who is now on leave - has since apologised to the former political staffer for the offensive remark made in her office.

In his response, Mr Morrison called the statement a "disgraceful slur"

"Thank you Mr Speaker. I’m pleased that the matter that she has referred to, the disgraceful slur on Brittany Higgins, Mr Speaker, as I called it at the time, that has been apologised for, that it has been withdrawn, and there’s been a formal settlement I understand between the parties. Of course she should never have said it and I challenge anyone in this place, I challenge anyone in this place and those who are putting these matters forward here in this place...

Mr Speaker. But I would simply say this - this was a statement that should never have been uttered, whether in a private office or elsewhere. And I’m pleased the Minister saw to it that that statement was unconditionally withdrawn, Mr Speaker. Unconditionally withdrawn. Apologised for. And that apology has been accepted."

15 March 2021, 2:53 pm

Scott Morrison questioned on decision not to attend women's march

Question Time has commenced with Prime Minister Scott Morrison asked why he chose not to attend the rally outside Parliament House. 

He also addressed this matter in his earlier remarks made "on indulgence". 

Mr Morrison said he would have been happy to meet with the organisers of the march in private. 

"I set out that I was very happy to meet with a delegation of those who were attending here in Canberra today," he said.

"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.

"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."

15 March 2021, 2:46 pm

Anthony Albanese: 'The prime minister needs to listen'

Labor Leader Anthony Albanese in his own speech "on indulgence" said the Mr Morrison needs to listen to the women of Australia. 

"Not so much a tin ear as a wall of concrete," he told Parliament. 

"We had today women gather around Australia with a few very clear and unambiguous messages, hear us roar. The Prime Minister needs to listen. To listen to what women are saying about what is happening in this building, and outside. They said enough is enough. And what I saw outside was passionate women who are angry, they are angry about what has happened to them, they are angry about what has happened to their mothers, their grandmothers, their sisters, their daughters and their granddaughters. And they're crying out that this is a moment that requires leadership. And it requires leadership from this Prime Minister. it requires leadership from this Prime Minister. And we are not getting it, Prime Minister."

He said Mr Morrison should also listen to the speech delivered earlier outside the Parliament by former political staffer Brittany Higgins.

"We had outside of this chamber a magnificent speech by Brittany Higgins. I say to the Prime Minister - listen to it. Listen to what Brittany Higgins had to say," he said. 

15 March 2021, 2:48 pm

Scott Morrison speaks on women's march outside Parliament

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has addressed the women's march rallies ahead of Question Time in a speech "on indulgence".

Mr Morrison said he and the government shared the "great concern" and "great frustration of those attending marches across the country.

"Today here and in many cities across our country, women and men are gathering together in rallies both large and small to call for change and to act against violence directed towards women," he told Parliament.

"It is good and right, Mr Speaker, that so many are able to gather here in this way, whether in our capital or elsewhere, and to do so peacefully to express their concerns and their very genuine and real frustrations. This is a vibrant liberal democracy."

He also made a comment that "even now" marches are being "met with with bullets, but not here in this country."

"This is a triumph of democracy when we see these things take place. Mr Speaker, those who gather here today and around the country do so out of a sense of great frustration and great concern ... that's deserved production and concern and concern that I share and I believe the members of this House share," he said.

15 March 2021, 2:25 pm

Marise Payne questioned on why she didn't attend women's march

Question Time has kicked off in the Senate with Penny Wong questioning Minister for Women Marise Payne questioned on her decision not to attend the rally. 

Senator Payne says the government and parliament will “give appropriate consideration” to the March 4 justice petition. 

"It is our responsibility to listen the concerns of all Australians," she said.

"Both the prime minister and I have sought to do that with the organisers of today's protest directly and to hear from them directly in a number of ways.

"I do take those concerns seriously as do my coalition colleagues - the prime ministers offer of that meeting with organisers still stand." 

 

15 March 2021, 2:01 pm

Amanda Stoker says she made 'conscious decision' not to attend rally

Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker has told the ABC why she chose not to attend the women's march: 

"Every person, male or female, but importantly women, need to be able to go to work and participate in our community safely," she said.

"But when I looked at the petition that is the basis for the marches, it called in no uncertain terms for the pre-judgement of cases where complaints are made.

"And it’s very important we don’t compound one potential wrong with another by abandoning important principles like the presumption of innocence and the rule of law. It’s important that we act and hear and respect people with complaints without jumping to conclusions that can do another injustice."

She went on to say: "Prime Ministers don’t go to protests and marches. Prime Ministers run the country."

15 March 2021, 1:39 pm

Grace Tame: 'Men are not the enemy - corrupt behaviour is'

Grace Tame continues:

"When we share with each other, we heal. Not just as individuals, but therefore, as a collective. It’s so powerful, and from the conversations like I said, we have education, and the education we can use to properly inform structures and create actual concrete change. We’ve already done that. Anything that we can rethink and reimagine can be actually redefined and reformed. Nothing is fixed.

"I’ve seen a lot of great words here today. Woman has a story. Every person has a story. The pursuit of progress does not have to be adversarial. That’s why we’re here.

"But men are not the enemy. Behaviour, corrupt behaviour always has been and always will be the enemy."

15 March 2021, 1:31 pm

Grace Tame: 'Evil thrives in silence'

Australian of the Year Grace Tame has also addressed a women's march in Hobart with her own impassioned speech. 

The 26-year-old is herself a survivor of sexual abuse. 

Grace Tame:

My heart is going to beat right out of my chest for all the love that I feel here today. It’s incredible - seriously! You know, as is often the case 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. And the answer is plain and simple - silence.

Evil thrives in silence. Behaviour unspoken, behaviour ignored, is behaviour endorsed.

But if one of these barriers to progress is silenced, like I’ve just identified, which is quite simple, it gives me hope. Because the start of the solution is also quite simple - making noise!

I feel like I’ve been bashing my head against a wall recently, because these are not explosive revelations.

These are common-sense ideas. Whatever happened to connecting with our fellow human beings and supporting each other and empowering each other and listening? It’s not that hard to love.

It starts with conversation, and from conversation, education is born. We’ve seen a lot of focus in our governments on responses to child sexual abuse and sexual assault and violence against women, as if we just have to accept it as a fact of life in our society. And I do not believe that that is right.

15 March 2021, 1:22 pm

Brittany Higgins says she came forward to help 'protect other women'

Brittany Higgins:

I decided to resign and share my story, because I felt it was the only thing that I could do to say that I didn't co-sign this behaviour. That I don't believe what happened was right.

That I don't believe a brochure is add sup -- adequate support. That I don't believe people should be isolated, intimidated and ignored after traumatic incidents inside the workplace.

I came forward with my story to hopefully protect other women. By staying silent, I felt like it would have made me complicit, and if something of this nature had ever happened again. 

My ongoing silence would have inadvertently said to those people in charge that you can treat people in this way and it's OK. I want to be clear - it's not! So I have spoken out with what little I have to say this isn't OK and they need to do better. We all need to do better. 

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. Take ownership of your story and free yourself from the stigma of shame.

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.

15 March 2021, 1:14 pm

Brittany Higgins: 'This is a human problem'

Brittany Higgins details her experience since going public with her allegation:

My story was on the front page for the sole reason that it was a painful reminder to women that it can happen in Parliament House, and can truly happen anywhere. These past few weeks on a personal level have been extremely difficult. Like many of you I have watched this all play out in the media. I watched it happened from my laptop in a spare bedroom in my dad's apartment on the Gold Coast. 

I watched as the Prime Minister of Australia publicly apologised to me through the media, while privately the media team actively undermined and discredited by love ones.

I tuned into Question Time to see my former bosses, people that I had dedicated my life to, did and downplay my lived experience. I have read the news updates every day at five a.m., because I was waking up to new information about my own sexual assault through the media. 

Details that were never disclosed to me by my employers, information that would have helped me as questions that have haunted me for years. I watched as people hid behind throwaway phrases like due process and presumption of innocence while failing to acknowledge how the justice system is notoriously stacked against victims of sexual crime.

I read the advice from defence chief Angus Campbell who advised women on how not to fall prey to those who have the proclivity to harm others. Advice aimed solely at modifying the behaviour of victims and does nothing to address the actions of perpetrators. I was dismayed by senior male journalists who routinely implied that my partner was pulling the strings behind the scenes. The sudden inference being that a traumatised woman wasn't capable of weaponising her own story.

I watched as advocates on the macro level disappear when the issue hit too close to home at the micro level. I had think suspicions confirmed when the media exposed a long list of people who knew what had happened to me. A list that seemed to grow by the day as truths about internal reviews, Senate committee submissions, office cleans and witness accounts were all unearthed. These are the people making our laws in governing the country. As our leaders, they should be the exemplar - the gold standard. 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? 

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 public and side-stepping accountability. It's time we actually address the problem. 

15 March 2021, 1:15 pm

Brittany Higgins: 'I was a political problem'

Ms Higgins continues: 

"I was raped inside Parliament House by a colleague, and for so long it felt like the people around me neither cared because of what happened for what it might mean for them. It was so confusing because these people were my idols. I had dedicated my life to them. They were my social network, colleagues, and my family. As suddenly they treated me differently. I was not a person who had just gone through a lot of changes event, I was a political problem. Amanda Vanstone, a former Liberal minister summed it up the other day - if there was a young girl alleging she had been raped in a different office, would it be on the front page? No it would not. I think Miss Vanstone is missing the point. There is a horrible societal acceptance of sexual violence experienced by women in Australia. My story was on the front page for the sole reason that it was a painful reminder to women that it can happen in Parliament House, and can truly happen anywhere."

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