Protesters across Australia express fury over rape allegations
Tens of thousands of Australians demonstrated on Monday to demand an end to violence against women, amid a growing government crisis following two rape allegations.
Two cabinet ministers have taken sick leave and the government has suffered a sharp drop in support following allegations that have drawn attention to what critics claim is a toxic culture for women in politics.
Shortly before the start of the demonstrations, Christian porter, The Attorney General of Australia, filed a lawsuit against the national broadcaster ABC for libel for reporting an allegation he raped a 16-year-old girl in 1988.
The woman reported the allegation to police last year and later died by suicide. Several of the woman’s friends subsequently sent details of the allegation to the prime minister and other politicians, leading to public disclosure of the case and called for a public inquiry.
Porter, who is on sick leave, denied the allegation. In a statement released through his attorney on Monday, Porter said he had been subjected to a “media trial” and that the allegations made by the CBA should be decided in court.
The ABC has said it will defend the lawsuit.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has resisted calls from opposition parties for an independent investigation into the Porter allegation. But he is under increasing pressure to tackle an issue that has dominated politics for more than a month.
Monday poll shown support for the ruling coalition had fallen behind Labor for the first time in a year. The Liberal Party also suffered a scathing electoral defeat in Western Australia, with the party on track to win just two or perhaps three of the 59 seats available.
The issue exploded onto the agenda last month when Brittany Higgins, a former Liberal Party adviser, claimed she was raped by a colleague in the office of Linda Reynolds, Australia’s Defense Minister, in 2019.
She reported the incident to the police but did not follow up on the complaint as she felt her work was “at stake” as the alleged rape took place before the 2019 election.
Higgins resigned from the Liberal Party in January and announced that she planned to conduct a police investigation and a complaint against the government.
During one of some 40 “March4Justice” protests that took place in towns and cities across Australia on Monday, Higgins told a crowd in Canberra that she spoke out to protect other women.
“We fundamentally recognize that the system is broken, that the glass ceiling is still in place and that there are significant failures in the power structures within our institution,” she said.
“The March 4 Justice” presented a petition with 90,000 signatures to lawmakers, demanding full independent investigations into all cases of gender-based violence as well as full public accountability.
Morrison declined a request to meet with protesters on the lawns of parliament, while organizers rejected his offer to meet in his office.
Political analysts have warned the issue could hurt the Liberal Party, which has a one-seat majority in parliament and faces elections next year.
“In the 2019 federal election, 45% of men gave their first preference to the Liberal Party, but only 35% of women did,” said Sarah Cameron, a political scientist at the University of Sydney.
“The current crisis has the potential to exacerbate the gender gap in voting behavior. The Liberal Party ignores it at its peril.