SYDNEY, Australia — After two months of sexual assault scandals, including an alleged rape inside Parliament House, Australia’s conservative government agreed on Thursday to accept a series of recommendations that aim to prevent gender-based abuse and increase accountability for misbehavior in the workplace.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison called his response to the report from the country’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner “a road map for respect” that would improve workplace culture in the public and private sectors. It includes more education in schools and the promise of new legislation to end exemptions for judges and members of Parliament from the country’s Sex Discrimination Law, and allows victims to file complaints for up to two years.
Mr. Morrison’s announcement was his most comprehensive effort so far to tackle a problem that has been festering for years in Australian politics, with women mistreated, demeaned or sexually harassed, usually without recourse.
A federal review focusing on Parliament’s workplace culture has also just begun, led by the same official, Kate Jenkins, and it may produce additional calls for reform as the demand for demonstrable change has continued to intensify.
the initial report was published in March 2020, with much of its findings overlooked by Mr. Morrison’s government until now, many women demanded more details and a clear timeline.
“It’s going to take more than just words from this government to correct the impression that they don’t care about these issues,” said Louise Chappell, a political science professor at the University of New South Wales. “This is not going to go away.”
Emma Husar, a former member of Parliament with the opposition Labor Party, said the government was still delivering only “the bare minimum.”
marches for justice that drew tens of thousands of women to the streets of Australian cities.
Mr. Morrison appeared on Thursday to leave some wiggle room for himself and his Liberal Party. He said his government accepted all 55 suggestions laid out in the report “in whole, in part or in principle,” leading his critics to question which measures would be put in place at the federal level, or passed on to states or given little more than lip service.
Many of the recommendations — from the creation of a national sexual harassment research agenda to “respectful relationship” training in schools — could take years to develop. And some of the changes announced on Thursday would simply bring Australia in line with other developed democracies — such as Britain, Canada and the United States — that have also passed legislation in the past few years tightening workplace standards for lawmakers.
Professor Chappell said the exemption for members of Parliament, for example — a carve-out in the sex-discrimination law also given to religious organizations — seemed especially outdated. Like many others, she welcomed the prime minister’s promise to ensure that lawmakers and the legal profession would no longer get special treatment.
“With all the cases we’ve seen so far, they have been able to act with impunity because they are not accountable in the same way that people outside Parliament are,” she said. “There’s been pressure to change that for many years.”
But the complaint process is still not clear. When Mr. Morrison was asked what the consequences would be for a sexual harassment complaint against a lawmaker, he said that was not yet decided.
“There are many issues that we’re still going to work through as we draft this legislation,” he said.
Professor Chappell said Mr. Morrison still seemed to be struggling with how far to go with policy and how to talk about the issue. In his news conference on Thursday, he emphasized that to change the culture of disrespect in the workplace, all Australians needed to take responsibility, but not “in a way that sets Australians against each other.”
“What does he mean here?” Professor Chappell asked. “That women are being too strident? Is it possible to address sexual harassment without some level of confrontation? I don’t think so.”
SYDNEY, Australia — When Julia Banks arrived in Parliament five years ago after a successful career in law and business, she felt as if she’d stepped back into the ’80s. Alcohol flowed freely. She occasionally smelled it on the breath of male lawmakers when they voted.
Many men in Australian politics also thought nothing of belittling women, she said, or spreading sexual rumors. More than a few treated junior employees like playthings. Once, Ms. Banks said, a fellow lawmaker introduced a new intern while slowly rubbing his hand up and down the young woman’s back.
“I could see her visibly flinch,” Ms. Banks said. “She and I locked eyes, and I’m sure the nonverbal cue to me was ‘don’t say anything, please don’t say anything, I’ll lose my job.’”
“It is the most unsafe workplace in the country,” she added.
Australia’s #MeToo momenthas arrived, late but strong, like a tsunami directed at the country’s political foundation. Six weeks after a former legislative staffer, Brittany Higgins, accused a senior colleague of raping her in the defense minister’s office, thousands of women are standing up to share their stories, march for justice and demand change.
finishing a book about bias, said she encountered the low hum of disrespect at one of her first fund-raisers, where she discovered she was not on the speakers’ list. It was all men.
from 15th to 50th in the world for parliamentary gender diversity. The parliamentary delegations of the conservative Liberal and National parties, which govern with a slim majority, are more than 80 percent male.
Contributing to the fraternity vibe, Canberra is a part-time capital. Votes are often called after 6 p.m., and families are left behind in local districts, since the legislature only sits for 20 weeks a year. When it’s busy, Parliament has often been compared to a gentleman’s club, though to some, it’s more Peter Pan at the pub.
Sarah Hanson-Young, a Greens party senator, said male rivals would often shout across the chamber the names of men she was falsely accused of sleeping with.
“It was like a game these blokes were playing with just the most intense level of scorn,” she told Ms. Ellis for her book “Sex, Lies and Question Time.”
Ms. Hanson-Young sued a Senate colleague, David Leyonhjelm, for defamation after he shouted “stop shagging men” at her on the floor of the chamber in 2018. She recently won a $120,000 judgment against him but endured death threats along the way.
apologized and removed the article. But the story went viral, andMs. Husar said she was forced by her party to step aside and not run again in 2019.
Ms. Ellis called the story about Ms. Husar “weaponized gossip.” She said she had a near miss when a reporter almost wrote about a lie making the rounds, that she and her chief of staff were sleeping with the same man.
Women said the message from their bosses was always clear: Secrets are for insiders, and don’t bother trying to find the truth.
“There has been this sort of ‘do know, don’t tell’ policy,” said Professor Chappell at the University of New South Wales. “The bubble analogy works — everyone who’s in there was keeping the secrets.”
have since come forward with accusations in the news media against the same man. (He was fired after the alleged attack on Ms. Higgins but has not been publicly identified.)
The women’s collective claims broke the stalemate. Women in Parliament and others who had recently left called for accountability. Tens of thousands of women marched all over Australia on March 4 to demand justice, inspired by Ms. Higgins and angered by accusations against Christian Porter, then the attorney general.
Just a day earlier, as news reports emerged of an unidentified cabinet minister accused of sexual assault, Mr. Porter had named himself as the suspect. He publicly denied the allegation — made by a woman who said he raped her when they were teenagers — and refused to resign.
masturbating onto the desks of female ministers. One of them has been fired.
A Liberal lawmaker was accused of harassing two female constituents. He agreed not to run again and apologized, but Mr. Morrison has come under fire for not making him resign.
Many women are also angry at the prime minister for protecting Mr. Porter, whom he recently moved from his role as attorney general into a new cabinet position.
And more women are resisting a return to business as usual.
Last week, Dr. Anne Webster, a new member of Parliament with the conservative National Party, said a male lawmaker had sexually harassed her. That kind of thing might once have been ignored, but she filed a formal complaint with party leadership, prompting the man to apologize.
“That’s what Australians expect of us now,” she said.
“Inch by inch, culture changes,” she added. “All of us are learning; all of us are adjusting to a new platform.”
SYDNEY, Australia — Seeking to address rising anger over allegations of rape and misogyny against members of his government, Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia reshuffled his cabinet on Monday, demoting two ministers tied to separate scandals, but keeping them in senior positions.
Defense Minister Linda Reynolds will become the minister for government services, Mr. Morrison said. Attorney General Christian Porter will give up that role while continuing to serve in the cabinet as the minister for science, industry and technology.
Mr. Morrison also announced a new task force on women’s equality, safety, economic security, health and well-being, while adding several women to the cabinet. They include Michaelia Cash, who will become attorney general, and Karen Andrews, who will become minister for home affairs.
“These changes will shake up what needs to be shaken up,” Mr. Morrison said, adding that having more women in the cabinet would bring “a fresh lens” to the government’s challenges.
Brittany Higgins, accused a more senior colleague of raping her in Parliament House in 2019, and three weeks after Mr. Porter was accused of committing rape when he was a teenager.
Mr. Porter has denied the allegation against him and resisted calls for an independent inquiry. Ms. Reynolds has apologized to Ms. Higgins for speaking with her about the alleged assault in the same room where it was said to have occurred, as well as for calling Ms. Higgins a “lying cow” after she went public with her allegations.
The reassignments are unlikely to tamp down the public outrage that has surged in recent weeks, after years in which complaints about Australia’s brutal culture of misogyny in politics were ignored or actively suppressed by the two major parties.
he had not read it. After the police dropped a criminal case against Mr. Porter, citing insufficient evidence from an incident alleged to have occurred 33 years ago, Mr. Morrison said the attorney general was still fit for the highest legal office in the country, despite the swirl of distrust surrounding him.
On March 4, when thousands of women protested sexual assault and sexism outside Parliament, Mr. Morrison refused to attend the rally. He later declared it a “triumph of democracy” that demonstrators had been able to gather without being “met with bullets” — a comment that only added more fuel to the public anger.
In recent days, Mr. Morrison finally seemed to recognize the severity of the problem his government was facing, but only after videos and photographs surfaced of male Liberal Party staffers masturbating onto the desks of female members of Parliament.
who filed a formal complaint against a colleague last week over a recent case of sexual harassment. “Everyone is on alert now and wondering: Where are we going from here?”
Jo Dyer, a friend of the woman who accused Mr. Porter, said she and many others would continue to push for an independent inquiry into the rape allegation, noting that changing Mr. Porter’s role did not address the larger question of whether he was fit for public office.
defamation claim against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation over its coverage of the rape allegation.
The prime minister said he had retained Mr. Porter in the cabinet because he was “a very capable minister.”
In a statement, Mr. Porter said he did not regret filing the defamation lawsuit, and would give his new portfolio “all the energy and commitment I have.”
MELBOURNE, Australia — Wearing black and holding signs reading “enough is enough,” thousands took to the streets across Australia on Monday to protest violence and discrimination against women, as a reckoning in the country’s halls of power sparked by multiple rape allegations continued to grow.
The marches in at least 40 cities represented an outpouring of anger from women about a problem that has gone unaddressed for too long, said the organizers, who estimated that 110,000 people attended the demonstrations nationwide.
With the next national election potentially coming as early as August, experts say it is something that the conservative government, which has come under stinging criticism for the way it has handled the allegations, ignores at its own peril.
The public anger over violence against women mirrored sentiments on display in London last weekend. There, thousands joined protests over the killing of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who disappeared while walking home at night earlier this month.
allegation that she was raped in Parliament House in 2019 rocked the nation’s halls of power and prompted Monday’s marches, appeared at the Canberra protest. She said that there was a “horrible societal acceptance” of sexual violence in Australia.
“My story was on the front page for the sole reason that it was a painful reminder to women that if it can happen in Parliament House, it can truly happen anywhere,” she said.
saying on Twitter: “We have already come to the front door, now it’s up to the government to cross the threshold and come to us. We will not be meeting behind closed doors.”
settled a defamation complaint and agreed to pay damages to Ms. Higgins after calling her a “lying cow.”
“A government that’s been described as having a ‘women problem’ for several years is now really in trouble with women,” said Sarah Maddison, a politics professor at the University of Melbourne.
“I can’t remember a time I’ve seen and personally experienced the level of distress women are experiencing now,” she said. “I think there’s something here with this level of distress that is producing quite an extraordinary moment in our politics.”
Support for the Liberal Party has been slowly declining among women for years, said Sarah Cameron, a lecturer in politics at the University of Sydney, although it was not enough to stop the party from winning the last federal election in 2019. Dr. Cameron added that the party “ignores this trend at their peril.”
In Sydney, organizers estimated that at least 10,000 people gathered in the central business district.
There, Michael Bradley, the lawyer for a now-deceased woman who had said she was sexually assaulted in 1988 by a man who is currently a member of Parliament, called for reforming the justice system. Earlier this month, Attorney General Christian Porter, 50, confirmed that he was the subject of the allegation.
statement of claim filed by his lawyers said that the article, which did not name Mr. Porter, made defamatory imputations.
In an email statement, the ABC said it “will be defending the action.”
The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email.
He was accused of sexual assault decades after it allegedly occurred, in a way that makes police investigation all but impossible. Backed by his party and the most powerful man in the country, he maintained his innocence and held one of the most important legal positions in the country, even as questions continued to swirl around him.
Which man are you thinking of: Australia’s attorney general, Christian Porter, or the United States Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh?
Of course, there are key differences too: Kavanaugh was a new appointee, while Porter is a longstanding member of the government. And Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s accuser, was able to publicly testify, which is impossible for Porter’s accuser, who died by suicide last year.
Still, the similarities between the two cases have unsettled many Australian women, intensifying concerns that Australia’s government is continuing to follow the playbook of the (now departed) Trump administration on a variety of issues.
we are eroding the very principles of the rule of law.”
Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s public release of a fake document, a potential audit into whether Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton mishandled government grants and Defense Minister Linda Reynolds needing to publicly apologize for mishandling a rape complaint involving a former member of her staff.
this question: “How good does it feel to be a minister in the Morrison government knowing that no matter what questions arise over your conduct, your job’s safe?”