A diverse alliance of Australian women are saying “enough is enough”.

Former Liberal parliamentary staffer Brittany Higgins, who has become a figurehead of the #MeToo movement, says the push to empower women has great momentum in Australia.

Concrete legislative action must now be taken, Ms Higgins said in a speech on International Women’s Day.

She said after going public with allegations she was raped in a federal minister’s office in 2019, her focus has shifted beyond the walls of parliament and its toxic culture.

“Initially, on the parliamentary reforms … I wanted to make a stand in parliament house, because it was so particularly bad,” Ms Higgins said on Tuesday at the Marie Claire annual International Women’s Day breakfast.

She said bullying and harassment was widely tolerated at parliament.

“We’d all share stories and it was talked about like gossip and not discussed like a crime,” she said.

“It is a crime – and it’s tolerated.”

Ms Higgins said the issues Australian women face go beyond her experience in parliament.

A new Safety, Respect, Equity campaign calls for legislating free and accessible childcare, action on the national plan for First Nations’ women and girls, sexual assault laws to protect children, and laws to tackle the gender pay gap.

“This isn’t just a women’s issue, it’s a human rights issue,” 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame said.

Intended to benefit every workplace, the campaign’s leaders also include businesswomen and philanthropist Lucy Turnbull, former Liberal MP Julia Banks, youth advocate Yasmin Poole, Paralympian Madison de Rozario and former Australia Post boss Christine Holgate.

Ms Holgate said those involved are all quite different women with different stories,

“But we’re bound together by one thing – that is, enough is enough,” she said.

“We want a safer, more equitable Australia … and I think it’s important for the women … the men and the children for the future of this country.”

The Salvation Army has partnered with clothing brand Review in a campaign where Australians can donate their clothes to those experiencing domestic violence.

After two years ravaged by COVID-19, social isolation and disasters, the work of the Salvos is more important than ever, Review general manager Clare Hurley said.

Labor spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek says cultural change needs to start when children are young.

The opposition has pledged $77 million to improve the teaching of consent and respect in schools, if elected.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison paid tribute to women serving in the defence forces around the country.

He said the economic participation of women is at record levels.

But with Rio Tinto tarnished by reports of abuse and assault, and BHP sacking at least 48 workers for sexual assaults and harassment at its mining camps since 2019, the resources sector is vowing to do better.

Minerals Council chief Tania Constable said member companies were working hard to ensure a diverse, respected and safe workforce.

The National Gallery of Australia has launched its first Gender Equity Action Plan that it will apply across the visual arts to address the bias that has favoured male artists in federal collections.

Meanwhile, Australia has dropped to 50th place on the Global Gender Gap rankings and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency estimates it will be 26 years before the wage gap between men and women closes.

The Greens launched an Economic Security for Women policy costing $24.5 billion over 10 years to provide a 26-week parental leave package, with provisions to encourage parents to share care more fairly.


Marion Rae and Phoebe Loomes
(Australian Associated Press)