What is it about the culture and structure of Parliament House that has allowed sexual violence and harassment to flourish?
Jenny was a Labor MP for twenty-three years, a Cabinet minister for six years, and now gets to view the parliament through the reflective eyes of someone who is no longer there. I’m in my first term as a Labor MP. So we have a generation between the beginnings of our time in the parliament. When Jenny was first elected in 1996, I was in my final years of high school. In that time, the number of women in the Australian Parliament has increased, but unfortunately, they are still not being heard. And tragically, they are not always safe.
As women, we believe in the power of politics to do good, and as feminists we recognise that politics is about power: getting it, holding onto it, and using it to improve citizens’ lives. Women wielding power in Parliament House, women fighting for equality and an end to discrimination across our country, have made their mark and they have caused change. But the underlying problem of men’s attitudes towards women, of men believing it is their right to assault or harass women, remains. For this to change, men will have to give up some of the harmful ways in which they use power—in the parliament and in our community.
We are calling for actions to have consequences, and for an end to a culture of political impunity. We want to seize this moment to do the unfinished work—to make sure that women are not just in the room, but that they are safe there. We say enough is enough.
Kate Thwaites was elected the Member for Jagajaga at the 2019 federal election. Kate is a former ABC TV and Radio news reporter and has held senior roles at Oxfam and in the Victorian Public Service. She worked for Jenny Macklin to help deliver important Labor reforms, including the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Paid Parental Leave. Kate is also working to tackle the other serious challenges that face our country: rising social inequality, constitutional recognition of Australia’s First Peoples, and fixing the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Jenny Macklin served for twenty-three years as the federal Member for Jagajaga. Jenny was the longest-serving woman in the House of Representatives, and was the first woman to become the deputy leader of a major Australian political party. She was the Deputy Leader of the federal parliamentary Labor Party from 2001 to 2006, and she served as the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, and the Minister for Disability Reform in the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments. She oversaw the Apology to the Stolen Generations and development of the Closing the Gap framework, and the introduction of Australia’s first national Paid Parental Leave scheme; delivered the largest increase to the pension in the history of the payment; was responsible for the design and implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme; and was an integral part of the establishment of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.