Over 2000 people have said “enough” to gender discrimination, gendered violence, sexual assault, misogyny, corruption, and dangerous workplace cultures at Newcastle’s March4Justice on March 15.
March4Justice was established in response to parliament’s handling of rape and sexual assault allegations, pushing for a full police investigation into the misconduct.
The treatment of the alleged rape of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins and the historic rape allegation against Attorney-General Christian Porter has angered many and sparked a call for change.
Newcastle’s Civic Park saw women, men, and children adorned in black and red carrying signs of anger and objection; “Women deserve to feel safe everywhere we go”, “Consent Matters”, and “Stop Protecting Predators” some signs read.
The event was emceed by author Sarah C. Motta and supported by three prominent speakers: Warlga Ngurra Women and Children’s Refuge caseworker Liann Taffe, domestic violence advocate and survivor Helen Cummings, and educator and activist Lynda-June Coe.
Motta said the event was an opportunity to gather, share collective grief, and celebrate women’s strength, survival, and wisdom.
“We wish to nurture a generous space in which all survivors’ voices are honoured and listened to, and we come together in intersectional solidarity and unite for change, accountability and healing justice,” Motta said.
“We ask you to join us in our mutual obligation to those around us by actively dismantling together these oppressive structures and forms of behaviours.
“Together, we tackle the sexism, misogyny, the transphobia, the queerphobia, the ableism, the classism, the racism, and other forms of oppression.
“Together, we can embody that mighty roar of change because when survivors unite, we move mountains, and we transform societies.”
The event saw an open mic session where Motta invited survivors up onto the stage to share their stories.
“We want you to know that you’re safe here, and you’re honoured,” Motta said.
“You can use words, poetry, your body, a song, you can scream, you can cry a river.
“We stand with you, and we welcome you into our circle; we feel your presence—so if you do decide to come up for the open mic, just take your time, really listen and be present with each other as much as possible.”
Over 15 survivors stood up to share their stories with the crowd; some told stories of child sexual abuse by family members, some told their experiences of rape, others spoke for those who had been abused but could not attend.
One woman wore her pink “sexual assault dress” as a symbol of strength and to take back the power it held over her—now fittingly called her “protest dress”.
Warlga Ngurra Women and Children’s Refuge caseworker Liann Taffe addressed the crowd, describing the difficulties that single mothers experienced when fleeing domestic violence.
“An ex-client of Warlga Nguarra’s had fled domestic violence, her story is typical like most victims back then, and today, nothing has changed,” Taffe said.
“She absconds the relationship and assists law enforcement with their enquiries, the perp is charged with numerous and seriously violating offences, and the justice system slaps him with a minimal and inferior sentence.
“He serves his observed minimum time for the crimes against her and her daughters, but he becomes free to start over again.”
Taffe said the government had outdated policies and needed to be held accountable for their patriarchal decisions and actions.
“One thing we do know, that is in the future, you won’t be put on a pedestal, and the way that you’ll be remembered to the younger generation, you’ll be held in contempt,” she said.
Domestic violence survivor and author Helen Cummings spoke on her advocacy and her rage with the government’s decision to abolish the speciality Family Court.
“There is anger across our land today, there is fury, white-hot rage, sadness, frustration, loss of hope, despair, and worst of all grief, it is all here today, and I feel it,” Cummings said.
“For the past 30 years, I have advocated and tried to be a voice for women who have lost their lives to domestic homicide, the women who are failed by not only our criminal justice system but the Federal Circuit Court.
“It made my blood boil when the speciality Family Court was conveniently abolished only a few months ago—throughout the country, specialist legal and community groups strongly advised against this, the Prime Minister and Christian Porter knew what was about to hit the fan.”
“Men continue to murder women and children at an alarming rate; I know there are women here today who have been sexually assaulted, abused, harassed, suffered domestic violence, and been raped,” she said.
“There are adults here who as children were abused either by a family member or a church; if you have finally found your voice and are here today, all strength to you…we hear you, we believe you.”
Cultural educator and activist Lynda-June Coe said the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s voices and visibility were non-existent.
“This country was not only founded on racism or racial injustice, but it was founded on sexual injustice as well; black women, black bodies, and black children have been raped and murdered in this country for over 250 f—ing years,” Coe said.
“Every single one of you, women, men, young people, use your voice, dismantle this system, disrupt it any way you can… stand up, come to the frontline, let’s burn this system to the ground.”
The Newcastle event was one of many events across the country, with over 100,000 protestors demanding change from the Australian Government.
Protesters delivered a petition to Women Members of Parliament, calling on the Prime Minister to act against gendered violence, which had ten demands.
The demands included a full independent investigation into all cases of gendered violence and referrals to appropriate authorities; lifting public funding for gendered violence prevention to the world’s best practice; enacting a federal Gender Equality Act to promote gender equality; and no perpetrators as policy or lawmakers.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressed March4Justice during Question Time afterwards, referring to the current marches in Myanmar where protestors were “being met with bullets”.
“Women and men are gathering together in rallies both large and small to call for change and to act against violence directed towards women,” Mr Morrison said.
“It is good and right that so many are able to gather here in this way, whether in our capital or elsewhere, and to do so peacefully to express their concerns and their very genuine and real frustrations.
“This is a vibrant liberal democracy, Mr Speaker, not far from here, such marches, even now, are being met with bullets, but not here in this country.”
The reference was faced with anger and backlash across social media, with questions of why Mr Morrison raised the prospect of violence at all.
He later explained that his comments had been misinterpreted and that he was making a point of Australian democracy and people’s rights to speak on issues without fear of violence.
He said the March4Justice protests were a “triumph” for the country but did not directly reference former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins who also spoke on March 15.
Higgins addressed thousands gathered outside Parliament House, where a male colleague allegedly raped her; she spoke on her experience and said there were significant system failings.
“We are here because it is unfathomable that we are still having to fight this same stale, tired fight,” Higgins said.
“It’s time our leaders on both sides of politics stop avoiding the public and side-stepping accountability—it’s time we actually address the problem.
“I was raped inside Parliament House by a colleague, and for so long, it felt like the people around me only cared because of where it happened and what it might mean for them.
“I am cognisant of all the women who continue to live in silence, the women who are faceless.
“The women who don’t have the mobility, the confidence or the financial means to share their truth.
“Together, we can bring about real, meaningful reform to the workplace culture inside Parliament House and, hopefully, every workplace, to ensure the next generation of women can benefit from a safer and more equitable Australia.”