12 March 2021

We can do better than denial, deflection and defensiveness around sexual harassment

| Rebecca Vassarotti MLA
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Rebecca Vassarotti

Rebecca Vassarotti says she has been deeply affected by the allegations of rape against a sitting Cabinet Minister. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

International Women’s Day is usually a day of reflection and celebration – recognising the achievements of women and giving thanks for the strides we have made.

On International Women’s Day this year, I reflected on the significant challenges that we still face.

It is hard not to feel enraged that we find ourselves in 2021 still facing the fundamental issue of how we ensure women are safe in our homes, in public places and when we go to work.

It is hard not to be furious that there is such little regard given by some men in power to the impact of sexual harassment and abuse.

It is deeply distressing to witness the action and inaction of our political leaders that sends a message that women’s experiences are not important and do not matter.

The reports of sexual abuse and sexual harassment in Federal Parliament, and allegations of sexual assault by a sitting Cabinet Minister, have greatly affected me and many other women.

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As a new member of government, I recognise that this is a moment of reflection, a moment to ensure our workplaces are safe places for women, young people and people with different abilities.

The ACT Legislative Assembly is a very different place from Parliament House and I am deeply thankful for this. A female-majority parliament and a long history of female leadership on all sides have fundamentally shaped its culture for the better.

This is a workplace where people finish work and go back to their own homes, where sittings do not extend into the late hours of the night, where there are workplace policies and strategies that support work health and safety.

However, I know there is more we can do.

No political party is immune. This is not just an issue for one side of politics or one part of the community; it is an issue we all must confront to demand and do better.

We, the ACT Greens, faced this in 2016. It was deeply confronting to realise that not only had we failed to keep a young volunteer safe but our response to it had likely led to further trauma and distress.

I do believe that the changes we made – in governance, complaints processes, health and safety initiatives and culture – have made our political party a much safer place.

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As political leaders, we need to lead. We need to set the standard. We need to demonstrate that we hear and care for the many women who have experienced sexual harassment and abuse.

One of the most powerful reasons people remain silent is the reality that, across the board, Australian society has not responded well to allegations of sexual harassment and abuse.

We cannot stand idly by and let defensiveness, deflection and denial set the standard for Australia and Australians.

Rather than hoping allegations die with the media cycle, the time has come to validate the courageous women who speak up against their alleged perpetrators.

We need to develop new pathways that ensure women are safe to disclose their abuse while holding people to account for their actions. This will not break the rule of law – it will enhance it.

This is a moment of choice and opportunity for our nation.

Lean in, Prime Minister, and show us that women and their stories matter – especially those who have survived abuse and harassment.

The ACT Greens MLAs have written a joint letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling for an independent inquiry into the allegations made against Attorney-General Christian Porter. You can read that letter here.

Rebecca Vassarotti is a Greens MLA and Member for Kurrajong.

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Capital Retro5:26 pm 15 Mar 21

“We, the ACT Greens, faced this in 2016. It was deeply confronting to realise that not only had we failed to keep a young volunteer safe but our response to it had likely led to further trauma and distress.”

I don’t recall this incident being reported up by the media, and especially the absence of any hysteria on the ABC.

Could you please provide details of what happened in 2016 so we can make a judgement as to why an independent investigation wasn’t held?

Is this woman really in our parliament? Perhaps she needs to go do law 101 or a class on democracy. In a democratic society, we have established principles like due process and natural justice. These concepts cannot just be abolished at whim because you want to find someone guilty because you don’t like them. You cannot just decide to charge people and reach a predetermined conclusion without a defined proper process. Having a ‘kangaroo court’ (perhaps Vassarotti and Barr will be the Judge, Jury and executioner?) is ridiculous. The best thing that could happen from an ‘inquiry’ is perhaps to investigate how historical criminal charges (e.g. rape, robbery etc.) could be treated, look at the statue of limitations for particular offences, and what evidence could be used. Any historical criminal charge is likely to fail on evidentiary grounds due to the passage of time, lack of evidence and people’s memories fading (or people passing away). Of course, unless people are just using mob justice and ignore the established principles of law; like what happened to Pell. It’s very dangerous to go down the path of mob justice, but it seems thats what the Greens like to do.

Seeing as the MLA is calling for an inquiry into the claims at a Federal level, what does Ms Vassarotti believe should be the scope and purpose of such?

There are no witnesses to any crime, no CCTV, no forensics, no complainant.

What exactly would an inquiry do? Interview people who weren’t present to gather hearsay? For what reason seeing as such evidence is almost meaningless to any finding of guilt.

Does Ms Vassarotti want to apply the same level of scrutiny to any single allegation that might be made in future or only this one?

The politics here is disgusting.

Well, Communists are usually pretty keen on kangaroo courts, so this isn’t much of a surprise. And she is an absolute failure at her own job, so trying to move focus from that is all these kind of things are.

The greens calling for a kangaroo court. What a surprise….

The police have already determined that there is no case to answer. Maybe you should spend more time fixing the issues you have caused rather than trying to virtue signal.

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