Editorial: Turn rage at Morrison’s failure on rape into fightback against the Liberals’ sexist policies

The Morrison government is being engulfed by the outrage at its failure to respond to the accusations of rape and sexual assault in Parliament House, the appalling sexism among the Liberals and concerns over sexism more generally.

Now the first female president of the NSW Young Liberals, Catherine Cusack, currently a Liberal MP in NSW, has said she will no longer attend parliamentary party room meetings. The Speaker of the Tasmanian parliament, recently pushed out of the party, has also condemned the shocking sexist attitudes that permeate the Liberals.

The March 4 Justice rallies, which saw 100,000 people take to the streets, have massively increased the pressure on the government.

Practically every woman in the country has her own experience of harassment, assault and sexual violence. But all the Coalition is concerned about is its own media management and trying to tough out the scandals.

Morrison is still refusing to allow an independent investigation into the rape accusation against Christian Porter, although he has now asked the Solicitor–General for advice regarding his fitness to be a Minister. He even blustered in parliament that women were lucky to live in a country where they weren’t shot at for protesting.

Morrison also wants Linda Reynolds to return to the Ministry despite her failure to offer support to Brittany Higgins, who she urged to drop any complaint about her rape within the Minister’s own offices.

Morrison’s folksy comment that, “Blokes don’t get it right all the time” can’t hide the government’s inaction and the ingrained sexism of his responses. He tried to deflect any blame, telling Nine radio, “it is up to all of society to make change, not just the federal government.”

After their disgusting responses to sexual violence, Porter, Reynolds and Morrison should all go.

Morrison insisted that the police should deal with rape allegations. But NSW police have admitted that just 1 per cent of rapes reported result in convictions, with only 10 per cent producing charges. Little wonder that most women do not even report their assaults to police.

Morrison’s government has cut JobSeeker and JobKeeper, disproportionately affecting women’s economic independence. It has abolished the Family Court. And his defence of Christian Porter and Linda Reynolds reinforces the sexism that comes from the top of society.

Sexism needs to be tackled at its source—the material pressures that reinforce women’s subordination and gender stereotypes through imposing the main burden of childcare and looking after families.

A liveable rate of JobSeeker and single parents’ payments would lift some of the economic pressure on women, as would the return of the government-funded free childcare we had during COVID lockdowns.

Toughening consent laws will do little to address the unwillingness of police and the courts to believe survivors or take the issue more seriously.

And consent training will also fail while our whole society is still saturated in sexism, through advertising, the media, the police and the attitudes of senior politicians.

We need to build on the huge March 4 Justice demonstrations. This is a key moment to demand change and organise the fight against all forms of sexism.

Coalition slumps

For the first time since the beginning of the COVID crisis, the Coalition’s support has slumped, falling behind Labor in Newspoll in March at 52-48 per cent.

Morrison was forced to junk most of his industrial relations bill to get anything through the Senate. His plans for wage agreements that undercut award minimum standards and eight-year “greenfields” agreements in construction were abandoned.

But instead of stepping up the pressure on Morrison by championing a clear alternative, Labor and Anthony Albanese are just hoping the government’s own blunders will be enough to lift them into office.

Their only major announcement on sexism has been legislation to make companies reveal the size of their gender pay gap. But Labor would not force them to do anything about it.

A rate of $80 a day is needed to keep the unemployed out of poverty. But Albanese has refused to commit to increasing JobSeeker beyond the Liberals’ $44-a-day payment.

Labor is still in retreat following its loss at the last election, dumping policies in order to present as small a target as possible. But it is the party’s failure to take a clear stand on issues like JobSeeker, climate change and refugees that stops people being confident it will deliver change.

Rallies on Palm Sunday will call for freedom for all the Medevac refugees brought from Manus and Nauru, an end to all detention and permanent resettlement rights for refugees.

School Strike for Climate has also called another student climate strike for 21 May. This is a chance to re-invigorate the climate movement and strike a blow against Morrison’s efforts to entrench fossil fuels with his plan for a “gas-fired recovery”.

It is strikes, protests and demonstrations that show the real power we have to fight for system change.

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