Thank you to those who have raised their voice. I hear you.

Thank you to those who have raised their voice. I hear you. Main Image

24 March 2021

What a week! Or, should I say, what a month!

Is it just me, or does it feel like Thursday night?

The reality is that it's only Wednesday night. The other harsh reality is that the distress caused over the last four or five weeks by the sickening conduct by some in this place has been laid bare.

Light is a disinfectant, and as hard as the news has been to hear and as hard as this is for survivors, this is a necessary and powerful conversation we need to have in order to drive change. In saying that, it's critical that those charged with leading this change move forward with empathy and a willingness to learn and listen. The old saying that we have one mouth and two ears, and that they should be used in that ratio, rings true.

It's an honour and a privilege to be a member of this parliament, but I'm disappointed that the service I have come here to fulfil has been overshadowed by a dark culture weighing down our work. This workplace needs to supercharge the reforms needed so that we can truly serve every Australian.

After hearing the Prime Minister's attempt at a mea culpa yesterday, Nick from Carwoola wrote to me with his thoughts: 'As my local MP for federal parliament, I would like to share with you some news for our PM regarding the treatment of women in the workplace. I work in a large private sector firm and I can assure the PM that the activities of LNP staffers in women's offices and ministers' offices do not occur in our workplace. The PM and the LNP need to do more to support and nurture women in parliament.'

Nick was not the only one who has written to me in recent weeks.

This discussion has stirred people in a way that only adds further to my advocacy on this matter.

Tracy from Murrumbateman wrote: 'I was horrified to read today that the Prime Minister appears to be taking no action about a rape allegation. The PM really needs to read the room and understand that trying to brush things under the carpet is not going to work.'

And David from Jerrabomberra said: 'I am writing to you tonight to express my dismay with the federal government's handling of recent incidents. This is not just about what goes on in parliament. Federal parliament needs to help resolve this toxic culture in Australia.'

And then there was Phil, 'Why is the rule of law deemed to be so powerful that by challenging the way it's administered one is at risk of being turned into a pillar of salt?'

The women and men of Eden-Monaro are shaking their heads and calling for action.

These sorts of emails started landing in my inbox four weeks ago and we finally saw a glimmer of understanding yesterday from the Prime Minister. But it lasted just a few minutes before the switch was flicked back to the aggression, denial and self- interest that is such a blockage in taking action and, I'd suggest, also part of the problem that denies women justice, denies women a voice and denies women equality.

Mixing amongst the women, both young and old, who gathered on the lawns in front of this place last week, I was struck by the depth of emotion, the level of lived experience and a thirst for shame; it's a shame that our Prime Minister missed it.

During my career as a lawyer, some people assumed I was a secretary.

As Bega Valley mayor, some people assumed that I was the mayor's PA.

I have had to fight for my salary, which was less than that of a male colleague with less experience, because, 'He sold himself better,' even though I had proven my work ethic and commitment over two years.

I've had to fend off an unwanted advance in a confined space during a work commitment and then hear that it was because he, 'hadn't eaten dinner and had had too much to drink'.

And I haven't even bothered to go into detail about the email campaign launched against me during the by-election by a man I had never met, calling me inexplicable names and accusing me of training paedophiles.

And I concede that I've gotten off lightly.

Speaking to those on the parliamentary lawns last week, and with other friends and colleagues, I know that women have been subjected to so much worse, and I rise to let those women know, 'I hear you, and I'm here to add my voice to yours so that the Prime Minister might hear you too.'

For those listening and those reading between the lines, something else is also emerging. The ABC's Leigh Sales pulled those threads together last week in Sydney.

She said; 'it is sickening to see this constant situation where powerful people and institutions exploit less powerful people.'

You can imagine the applause she received, and I encourage anyone who hasn't read the transcript to do so.

This workplace is like no other, but that is no excuse to behave differently to other workplaces.

The government of the day sets the standard, and many in my community feel those standards have been dropped—not just that they are slipping and not just in treatment of women but also in the treatment those most in need.

The people in my electorate rebuilding their lives after drought, bushfire, COVID-19 and flooding are saying that they feel left behind.

When we leave one person behind, we are all drawn backwards.

Thank you to those who have raised their voice. I hear you.

Photo: Rebecca and Amanda from the Bega Valley at the March 4 Justice on March 15.


Media contact: Ian Campbell, phone: 0417 482 171