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Politics Editorial

Morrison, Finlay and a tame – but not Tame enough – Women’s Summit

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Sunrise host David Koch were keynote speakers at the Women's Safety Summit (Image by Dan Jensen)

It’s been a disheartening week for Australian women.

*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses rape and sexual abuse

The PM set the tone once again by prioritising his personal needs ahead of lockdown regulations and above people with dying relatives or ill children by taking an unannounced taxpayer-funded VIP flight home for Father’s Day.

Morrison also decided to use the hastily cobbled together National Summit on Women’s Safety to promote himself – again – taking on the role of first keynote speaker to give an unsurprisingly underwhelming speech.

And, for the pièce de résistance, as the PM and prominent misogynist David Koch addressed the Summit, arguably the least qualified woman in the country to head up a role dedicated to equality, Lorraine Finlay, was appointed Human Rights Commissioner.

But hey, at least it’s a woman, right?

All in all, several small PR steps for the Morrison Government, numerous giant leaps backwards for women everywhere.

Like most things championed by this Prime Minister, the Women’s Safety Summit was hastily cobbled together following criticism of the Morrison Government’s misogyny and mishandling of, well, all things to do with women.

As sexual assault survivor and Australian of the Year Grace Tame put it:

What we’ve seen in this Government is a clear pattern of denial, minimisation, ultimately dismissal of women’s issues.

 

You’ve got Brittany Higgins, Christine Holgate, Julia Banks; clouds of mystery and immorality around Christian Porter.

 

Really, this Summit is an extension of that. It’s been so poorly organised, it’s incredibly secretive, it’s also very exclusionary. It has a comically narrow remit – focusing on what are the little band-aids we can put on this situation – to make it hopefully go away.

The Summit descended into a tokenistic exercise in the marketing and promotion of empty slogans. 

Morrison snaffling the role of keynote speaker was just plain inappropriate, if not an outright insult, and is just the icing on the cake of his litany of transgressions towards women.

The PM feigned ignorance when the alleged workplace assault of Brittany Higgins in Parliament House became public knowledge and then announced an in-house investigation, which has dragged on behind closed doors and is yet to be finalised.

Morrison blatantly refused to address rape allegations against former Attorney-General Christian Porter, didn’t even bother to read the dossier sent to him by the alleged (now-deceased) victim and declared Porter innocent without an inquiry of any kind.

And then there’s the matter of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins' Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report (2020) report which sat idle on Morrison's desk for over a year before his Government finally agreed to adopt just six of the 55 recommendations.

But back to the Summit.

If Morrison’s keynote address wasn’t enough of an insult, Brittany Higgins, the woman who inspired the Summit, wasn’t even invited. Neither was Rosie Batty.

Sunrise host David Koch was invited, though – and even asked to give an address – most likely due to his many previous “helpful” attitudes towards women such as:

  • telling breastfeeding women to be “classy” and “more discreet”;
  • organising a stripper pole for his co-host on national television as he stared at her shoes and announced they were “reflective”;
  • alleging “men work harder than women”; and
  • claiming “…man flu is real … because women go to bed and get over it and men just keep moving and going on and working”, before concluding this deep insight with ‘men “rarely whinge and moan” about being sick’.

Greens Senator Larissa Waters described the Women's Safety Summit (in a media release) as:

'...yet another exercise in political theatre for a Government that remains completely out of touch with Australian women.'

Senator Waters said:

'An evidence-based, properly funded, comprehensive National Plan is crucial to stopping violence against women. But it’s clear from today that the Morrison Government just wants a showpiece summit and a National Plan for Trying to Win Back Women Voters.'

Labor Senator Penny Wong said:

'The Women’s Safety Summit can’t just be another exercise in political management from the Morrison Government. Mr Morrison has to take responsibility for turning talk into action - and if he wanted to, he could start right now.'

Senator Wong also listed the following items as a starting point for action:

  • housing for women escaping violence; 
  • paid domestic violence leave; 
  • legal services for victim-survivors;
  • support for female temporary visa holders fleeing violence; and
  • proper implementation of the Respect@Work report.

Finally, the appointment of Lorraine Finlay as Human Rights Commissioner – a move labelled by abuse survivor Grace Tame as “grave, grave mistake” – once again underpins the lack of regard by this Government for the hard-fought small steps towards women’s safety and the prevention of sexual violence.

Finlay has publicly opposed affirmative consent laws, which require that consent before sex be actively sought and communicated — a position that simply beggars belief.

Finlay has also aligned herself with men’s rights activist Bettina Ardnt, who has openly and publicly sympathised with the twice-convicted paedophile who repeatedly raped Grace Tame when she was just 15 years old.

In his perfunctory keynote Summit address, Morrison called the epidemic of violence against women “a national shame”, which is absolutely true, of course, but no one is buying his confected sudden interest.

The Prime Minister's actions tell a different story.

If you would like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online, or contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

This is an abridged version of an editorial originally published in the IA's weekly newsletter. Subscribe now to read the full version online in the IA members-only area.

You can follow managing editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9Also, follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE, and in the new IA subscriber-only Facebook page HERE.

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