• Zali Steggall MP

Enough is Enough

Over the last several weeks we’ve all been appalled by the allegations of events occurring at Parliament House, Canberra. These revelations began with Brittany Higgins’ courageous move in coming forward with details of her alleged rape in a Ministerial office. Her brave move highlighted shortcomings in the Government’s handling of her allegations both back in 2019 and also in more recent weeks since becoming public.

Zali Steggall at the March 4 Justice

We subsequently heard of allegations of an alleged historic rape by a then schoolboy, now Government Minister. Over ensuing weeks there were further accusations pointing to a lack of process and protections for employees within Commonwealth Parliamentary workplaces. There were additional allegations of sexual harassment and alleged cover-ups, and in mid-March details were made public of abhorrent behaviour amongst some coalition staffers. Their actions demonstrated an incredible lack of respect, a sickening arrogance and a heightened sense of entitlement. Again, the Government’s response has been left wanting.

The various revelations and the Government’s response – or lack thereof – triggered a wave of public reaction across our nation. We saw a build-up of frustration, anger and hurt but also a build-up of energy, of a desire to take action, of a demand for justice, respect and change. This culminated with the national “March 4 Justice” on Monday 15 March – when rallies were held across the country. It was a truly humbling experience to step outside Parliament that day, join thousands of women and men who had marched to our workplace, demanding that we, as their representatives, listen to them and take action. As I walked through the crowd, I was struck by the diversity of faces and experiences around me. There isn't a single sector of our society that isn't affected by gender based violence and that isn't demanding change.

As we listened to the powerful words of those speaking at the Canberra rally, I could hear stifled crying amongst those gathered. For some they were tears of pain, as their own experiences and trauma were relived. For others they were tears in memory of loved ones who could no longer live with the burden of their abuse; and for others, they were tears of exhaustion, after decades of fighting for basic human rights and respect. The message at the rally and from the public more generally is that the time for words has passed. This is certainly the message I have received from the people of Warringah. As an Independent, free of party politics, I’m free to speak up and make our collective voice heard. We do not need a new inquiry. We do not need another review or an internal secret report. We need action.

On the same day as the March 4 Justice, I tabled a Bill to Parliament providing an opportunity to take the first step in creating real and much needed action. The Bill I presented seeks to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to ensure sexual harassment is prohibited in all circumstances. At the moment, the Act does not adequately capture the full range of employment circumstances in which sexual harassment may occur. Members of Parliament and statutory appointees are not adequately protected from or liable for sexual harassment.

Over the last month, we’ve heard examples of members of parliament being both the targets and the alleged perpetrators of sexual harassment. We must act on this. I provided the Government with the opportunity to take on these amendments; they ignored that offer. Subsequently, I moved a motion of urgency, demanding the Sex Discrimination Bill be debated – and amended – as a matter of priority. Again, they declined. But the Bill remains on the Notice Paper.

My crossbench colleagues and I will not let this matter go away. As well as the amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act, we will also be fighting for an enforceable Code of Conduct to be introduced for all MPs and Senators. The people of Australia are demanding action and we, as Independents on the crossbench are listening.

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