Thousands of protestors gathered outside Parliament House today (15 March) to demand an end to gendered violence and action on the toxic workplace culture within the building, including allegations of sexual assault.
Rallies took place all across Australia today in response to allegations made by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins that she was raped in the Defence Minister’s office by a co-worker, as well as a historical rape allegation against Attorney-General Christian Porter.
Mr Porter has denied the accusation and announced on the morning of the marches that he would sue the ABC for defamation over the allegations.
Speakers at the event – including Ms Higgins – shared stories of assault and harassment and encouraged other women to come forward and stand up.
Ms Higgins said the current system was broken.
“I was raped inside Parliament House by a colleague, and for so long, it felt like the people around me only cared because of what happened and what it might mean for them,” she said.
“These are the people making our laws and governing the country.
“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?”
The crowd of mostly women also expressed their frustration at the misogyny they had experienced and their anger at responses from the Prime Minister and government after both rape allegations were aired.
One woman, Jodi, said that women are beyond frustrated.
“Women are angry at every person with the ability to make a difference sitting in Parliament House and not [being] here, committed to genuinely listen and committed to making a change,” she said.
Anna, who was there with her family, was equally livid that she had to march in 2021, echoing the words of Ms Higgins that “we are not here because we want to be but because we have to be”.
“The statistics are disgustingly overwhelming, and this issue touches everyone in this crowd,” Anna said.
“These last two weeks have shown that this particular government takes very little interest in righting the wrongs within the walls of their own offices, let alone the rest of the country. I feel angry and empowered and want to see that change.
“It is distressing that we have generations of our family here who have come out here many times already, and they are here supporting us as the next generation, and inevitably there [will be] a further generation again.”
Standing side by side with Anna, Carrie reiterated that it was about visibility. She said that you cannot be what you cannot see.
“How are we supposed to encourage our sons, our mates and other men, but equally us women, to stand up for each other if that does not bleed through from the top down to everyone else?” she said.
“You cannot see that accountability and transparency happening in the highest office of the land.”
The Prime Minister did not attend the rally, but politicians from all sides of politics did, including ACT senators Katy Gallagher and Zed Seselja, Chief Minister Andrew Barr, ACT Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee and ACT MLAs from Labor, the Greens and the Canberra Liberals.
If this story has brought up any issues, you can contact the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre’s support line on 6247 2525 between 7:00 am and 11:00 pm for all counselling-related inquiries, including all appointments and referrals.
1800RESPECT, the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service, can be contacted 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1800 737 732.