On Monday, top Australian policymakers, including both party leaders and the Speaker and President of Senate, formally apologised for the culture of bullying, abuse, sexual harassment and violence that exists within the halls of parliament, with explicit remorse directed to former staffer Brittany Higgins, who alleges a colleague raped her at Parliament House in 2019.
"I am sorry. We are sorry," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said to past and present parliamentary employees.
"I am sorry to Miss Higgins for the terrible things that took place here. And that what should have been a place for safety and contribution turned out to be a nightmare," he continued. "I want this to be a place where young Australians, and young women, in particular, can follow their dreams and not have them crushed by brutality and the misuse of power."
The apology comes after a year of outraged protests and the release of a damning report by Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins. The report found over half of all people currently employed in Australia’s federal parliament have experienced bullying, sexual harassment or sexual assault.
One day after the apology by top lawmakers, Higgins and 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame addressed the National Press Club — the country’s most recognised forum for discussion and debate — to condemn the government's "warm sentiments" and lack of clear, critical action when it comes to tackling violence against women.
Their powerful speeches once again struck a chord with feminists and violence survivors across the country.
"In the national conversation, we have this passive, anonymous language vaguely talking about ‘wrongs done’ as if sexual violence falls out of the sky. As if it is perpetrated by no-one. As if it is inflicted on no-one,” Higgins said, a statement that was then backed up by Tame.
"Unless our leaders take full responsibility for their own failings, abuse culture will continue to thrive inside parliament, setting a corrupt standard for the rest of the nation. It rots from the top,” Tame explained. “And by full responsibility,’ I mean proactive, preventative measures — not these reactive, band aid, electioneering stunts like acknowledging past harm at the last minute.”
Below, we’ve compiled just some of the reactions from activists, women, campaigners and supporters to both the Australian Government’s formal apology and the subsequent speeches from two of the most inspiring, prominent champions of sexual assault reform the country has ever seen.
How can someone deliver a “heartfelt” apology on Tuesday and then not turn up to a speech by one of the people being apologised to on Wednesday?— Robyn (@robynbryant33) February 9, 2022
The level of gaslighting by Members of the Govt under ScoMo has skyrocketed! I'm a disabled Mum that has been a DV victim recognise the patterns of abuse replayed by Govt in the way they try to 'spin' the truth. I support yr initiative to use accurate language abt child sex abuse— EmmaG (@EmmaGri32745010) February 9, 2022
Congratulations to both of your amazing speeches. It was music for my soul to hear you both express so clearly what matters and what is missing. So much courage. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You give people so much hope.— KatieM (@katiemay1054) February 9, 2022
I grew up with sexual and physical abuse. Sadly, abuse doesn't "go away". I battle PTSD and suicidal thoughts to this day. Survivors have a long road. Government must support that journey. To support it, they must recognise it. Canberra, do better.— Victoria Tait (@victoriatait) February 10, 2022
Thank you and Brittany for today’s speeches. As you said, action is required because the time for platitudes and talking are over. Government, business, et al have to start walking the walk…because talking the talk doesn’t cut it any more. Enough is enough.— Neale Stratford - Proletariat Sewer Rat. 🐀💉💉💉 (@Strattyg) February 9, 2022
Thank you for being a fierce and gutsy voice for the vulnerable in our society! Raise hell, you amazing human - we’ve got your back! I feel so much hope for our future with strong, intelligent and tenacious young women like you and Brittany as role models for our girls! ❤️❤️❤️— Nik Wewer (@niks_a_twit) February 9, 2022
Wish there was a way to more than LIKE your tweets. Today’s NPC speech is right up there with Julia’s misogyny speech... hopefully this attention encourages even more support for your ongoing work on legislation. You are a truly inspiring and awesome human Grace.— Margie Carroll (@MargieC19420138) February 9, 2022
I am a victim of Abuse cohesive control @TamePunk l have been silenced by a system— @kate🌹 (@kateju9) February 9, 2022
I also fit into the disability category
Thank you for today Grace
Brittany changed my life, her bravery in speaking out diminished my shame.— Linda Miles (@lindamiles7) February 10, 2022
I’m forever grateful, in awe of both of you and the women who have come before you.
Hard to express how much you both mean to me.
We do not seek perfect leaders.— Dr Eric Levi (@DrEricLevi) February 9, 2022
We seek authentic ones.
An extraordinary Press Club today. Powerful, and painfully honest. The strength and resilience displayed can only be admired. Meanwhile, in Question Time, the squirmy little worms are playing their usual games. Integrity is the difference.— Paul McDermott (@YoungMasterPaul) February 9, 2022