Taking Note – Scott Morrison & Australian Women

29 November 2021

Senator Scarr is right: there are a lot of different debating points you can make about what happened in question time today in response to Senator McAllister's questions and others' questions. But I don't think the point here is about crossing the floor; I think the point is about what happens when a woman, in particular, does something the Prime Minister doesn't want her to do—what the impact is on that woman and what that says about the Prime Minister's beliefs and values and the culture of this government.

I am deeply unenthusiastic about contributing to this debate, because, in my 2½ years in the Senate, this issue has dominated so much of the public discourse. This government is completely inept when it comes to listening to women, understanding the issues that women are raising, and seeing this place as a workplace, where people not only have rights but also have responsibilities to each other. For women in this workplace, especially, that is abused. I was in this chamber only two weeks when I first heard the phrase 'quota girls' thrown out from those opposite me—just a few weeks. What a nice welcome to the chamber which has gender parity!

We've seen three different positions on quotas from the Prime Minister. We've heard views like, 'We want more women in, but just not at the expense of men.' We've seen all sorts of incidents when it comes to the treatment of female MPs in this government, whether it's Mrs Archer, as was the topic in question time today, or the experience of Ms Julia Banks in this parliament. We've seen the nonsense the Prime Minister has uttered in response to the concerns of women giving birth in regional New South Wales: 'Well, the solution to your lack of access to maternity care isn't a hospital; it's a highway.' We've seen this government sit on the Human Rights Commission's Respect@Work report for almost a year and then completely fudge its response to the recommendations. They pretended they were going to do it all, and then they reneged on that commitment. But all of this pales in comparison to the way that female staff have been treated in this building.

And it pales in comparison to the way women in general are treated by this government—when women join on the lawns of Parliament House for March4Justice and the Prime Minister says, 'Women in Australia should be grateful, because not far from here such marches even now are being met with bullets.'

I am so sick of having these debates. I am so appalled that this has to be a topic in question time. It has to be, because it's still going on, right? It has to be, because we're still seeing this kind of behaviour. In my 2½ years here, given everything I've seen and everything this place has borne witness to, given the courage and bravery of women seeking to change the culture of this place, I am completely fed up that not enough seems to happen to recognise that this is a workplace and that the people within this workplace need to be treated with respect. If women in this workplace feel like that, is it any wonder that women outside of this workplace, looking in, don't want to put their hand up to be here—that's especially true on the other side—and is it any wonder that those women don't feel like their concerns, the issues facing them, are being listened to or heeded by this government?

This is a cultural thing and it starts at the top. If this is the way the Prime Minister perceives women, if this is the way the Prime Minister responds to concerns from women, if this is the way the Prime Minister runs his workplace, which is the workplace of all of us, then that culture will permeate down. It doesn't just stay in this building; it goes beyond its walls as well. It sets a standard which becomes one more broadly in the public space. It is no wonder that women in Australia are fed up. I am fed up, too. So I would urge, as we look at the debating points, as we continue this debate, that we give some consideration to how serious this is for the women outside of this building and those within it.