Statement - Responses to Questions

13 June 2023


Honestly, what kind of parallel universe are we operating in here? We had a Liberal staffer report an alleged rape by another Liberal staffer in a Liberal minister's office in a Liberal government, where question after question at that time was left unanswered, and you're trying to put Senator Gallagher on trial: a minister who at the first opportunity to walk into this place and provide further information did so—the very first opportunity. It is the audacity of an opposition who dodged question after question to then walk in here today and put questions to a minister that they never dared to put to themselves, never prioritising or upholding transparency. 

I would say to everyone in this chamber to think very carefully about the path they are treading here, because the events leading up to the Jenkins report led to a cultural reckoning—a reckoning built on the courage and bravery of a young woman who came forward to say that her workplace wasn't safe for her, that her workplace failed her. The recommendations of that report sought to reward not just her courage but also the courage of 1,000 other submitters, including me and including people in this chamber, with ambitious action that would transform the culture of this place to set a standard, not betray one. 

That work was never going to be easy; it was never going to be set-and-forget. It was always going to require a fight, because systems of power that exploit, discriminate and abuse don't ever dismantle themselves. Many of us contributed to that work. Senator Gallagher made tireless contributions to that work, as did woman after woman who has shared their own story of abuse, of harassment at work. There were people in this place, indeed in workplaces around our country, who felt secure in the shade of that reckoning, who felt brave because of the bravery of others, who thought they could speak because others spoke. It was a reckoning that was overdue not just in this workplace but in workplaces and spaces around our country. 

We should all think very carefully about who in our country stands to benefit from the unravelling of that work. Who stands to gain? And we should reflect about when the books are written about the women and men who fought to make this parliament, this institution, more respectful, more equal, more accessible and more safe for those who made tremendous sacrifices to do and contribute to that work. Were we the ones who fought with them to uphold that standard, or were we the ones who lit the match and let the standard burn to the ground? I know the place I want to hold in that chapter. I know the place Senator Gallagher will hold in that chapter of our history and deserves to hold—a woman who has always been guided and motivated, not just in this place but in every other place she has walked, by wanting to make the world a better, a more respectful and a safer place for the women in it. She is a woman who, in the role of Minister for Women for just one year, has already made her mark as a major reformer, already matched the women who have held that role before her, who is a powerful force for change within the government, within the Labor Party and outside of it, and a woman who has never pulled a ladder up behind her, never accepted that the work was done. When they write the history books of the reckoning here and of the response, when they write the history books of this government and what it delivered for women, there will be a chapter with Senator Gallagher's name on it, and it's a chapter I will proudly read to my daughter. We all need to think about the chapter we want to be in as this history is written. 

I do want to say something quickly about the nature of the public debate at the moment. Let's not skirt around the subtext. One in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence perpetrated by a man they know. Let us not allow a chilling effect to hinder those women coming forward. We have a role in keeping them safe. In stopping this, we get to choose our place in history.