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Australia’s Shocking Pandemic
Another pandemic has hit Australia but this time it is not something that can be solved by washing your hands or wearing a mask. Rather, it has spread through schools, households and most notably, the Australian Government. The pandemic of discussion is one comprised of sexual assault and misconduct that has been brought to light in recent months in Australia and seems to be rapidly growing. There is no one isolated incident in question; instead, the country is witnessing a multitude of heinous allegations exposed to the public, with the expectation of more to come in an avalanche-like phenomenon.
The first of the allegations surfaced in the beginning of March 2021, when former Australian Liberal Party staffer, Brittany Higgins, accused an unnamed former male colleague of rape in the office of their then-boss: Former Defence Minister Linda Reynolds. The incident is alleged to have occurred in 2019 and Higgins has said that she made Reynolds aware of the assault yet no action was taken. Minister Reynolds caused national outrage after she made a comment to her staff calling Higgins “a lying cow”, a statement that she has since apologized for. While Senator Reynolds has been moved out of her position as Minister of Defense in what Prime Minister Scott Morrison called a “cabinet reshuffle,” but they are not the only Liberal Party members who have been criticized for their handling of the allegations.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has angered many Australians after a series of actions in his mismanagement of the crisis. After Higgins made the rape allegations public, Morrison remarked in a press conference that his wife encouraged him to think about how it would feel if his daughters were in the same situation as Higgins. This comment angered sexual assault activists, political commentators and many members of the Australian public across the board. The argument was made that it should not take having children for the Prime Minister to feel empathetic for Higgins or for him ameliorate the workplace culture inside Parliament House.
It is clear that this first public allegation speaks to the wider culture that has formed within the current parliament. At the same time as the unfolding of the Brittany Higgins allegations, a letter was sent to the Prime Minister alleging the rape of a woman in 1988 by a high-ranking Liberal Party cabinet member. The existence of the letter was announced by the Prime Minister soon after, and the Attorney General at the time, Christian Porter, named himself as the accused. In response to this news, the country began calling for his resignation on behalf of the alleged victim who died by suicide in 2020.
The allegations have continued to flow into the public sphere with leaked videos which involve male staffers performing masturbatory acts on the desks of their female colleague and turning the parliamentary prayer room into a “sex room.”
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On the 15th of March, young and old Australians of all genders took to the streets in a “March 4 Justice” against sexual assault and violence against women across the globe. Record numbers of protestors were seen across Australia, with the biggest occurring in the nation’s capital, Canberra, outside the Parliamentary Building. Prime Minister Morrison has once again faced criticism from both sides of the aisle after he refused to leave parliament to meet with the crowd. He caused further outrage when he spoke at Parliamentary Question Time the same day, stating that the demonstrators should be grateful that their actions were not “met with bullets” (in the way that protestors were treated during a similar march in London).
While the Liberal Government has frequently been dubbed as having a “women problem,” it is evident that the Prime Minister and his closest advisors have a blind spot when it comes to the issue of sexual assault. It is clear that better handling is needed on the part of the Morrison Government, but there is hope that the nature of these allegations has caused a public shift in discussion and that Australians will continue to pressure their leaders into bringing forward systemic change.