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Anti-abuse crusader says, Australia’s prime minister’s apology is insufficient

2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame and advocate for survivors of sexual assault Brittany Higgins attend the National Press Club in Canberra, Australia February 9, 2022. AAP Image/Lukas Coch via REUTERS

A renowned campaigner said she wanted to see action rather than words after Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison apologised in parliament for the treatment of women who had endured sexual abuse there.

The news: Brittany Higgins, a former political worker who claims she was raped in a parliament office by a fellow employee, expressed worry that workplace sexual abuse may be made into a “political perception problem neutralised and turned into a net positive.”

  • “Actions are what matter,” Higgins said in a speech at the National Press Club in Canberra. “Task forces are great. Codes of conduct are important. But only if it’s paired with institutional change.”
  • Morrison’s apology came after he battled last year to appease public outrage over allegations of sexual assault, gender discrimination, and misconduct in parliament. He must schedule an election by mid-May.
  • Half of parliamentary employees have suffered harassment, bullying, or sexual assault, according to a review spurred by Higgins’ public disclosure of details of her claimed sexual assault in a ministerial office.

What’s going on: On Tuesday, the speaker made a statement apologising for “an intolerable history of workplace bullying, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in parliamentary workplaces,” as parliament convened for the first time in 2022.

  • Morrison apologised to everyone who had been harmed, including Higgins, in his speech to the House of Commons.
  • Higgins acknowledged the significance of the moment on Wednesday, but expressed concern that the administration had simply learned how to talk about it better.
  • Following an inquiry into Higgins’ case, authorities charged a 26-year-old man last year. He will appear in court later this year.
  • Morrison’s parliamentary apologies came as anti-vaccination protestors gathered outside parliament and his conservative party was embroiled in a quarrel over a religious freedom bill.
  • His personal integrity has also been questioned as a result of embarrassing leaks of previous text conversations from state and Coalition partner officials, including some that labelled him a “liar”, including by Higgins.
  • Higgins appeared at the press club alongside former Australian of the Year Grace Tame, another notable advocate for the rights of abuse victims.
  • Tame was asked how, if elected, opposition Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese could improve on the issue of workplace abuse.
  • “All that Anthony would have to do is none of the things Scott’s done,” Tame said.
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