“When an issue that has been shrouded in darkness for such a long time is suddenly thrust into the light, there’s widespread shock and disbelief over how something so evil could happen and not just happen but happen so ubiquitously.
And the answer is plan and simple – silence. Evil thrives in silence. Behaviour unspoken, behaviour ignored, is behaviour endorsed.”
– Grace Tame, March 4 Justice, Hobart, March 15
With those words, sexual assault survivor and advocate Grace Tame has given politicians a much-needed lesson in crisis communications.
After successfully overturning Tasmanian sexual assault survivor gag laws, Ms Tame joined tens of thousands of protestors in demanding that women be heard at this week’s March 4 Justice rallies.
Of all the people who could benefit from hearing these words and those of the others who spoke on March 15th, embattled Prime Minister, Scott Morrison sits high on the list.
It was his handling of two of the most serious accusations of rape and cover up ever faced by any Australian Government that incited tens of thousands of people to take to the streets across the country.
Shouting “Enough!” participants marched calling for equality and safety and raged against institutionalised boys’ clubs protecting perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence, allegedly even at the highest levels of politics.
The Australian rallies have also attracted global attention. Tragically coinciding with the murder of London woman Sarah Everett by a police officer, March 4 Justice may well have triggered a global movement.
The concerns of a growing number of Australian women appear to have fallen on deaf ears with Coalition MPs including the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Women Marise Payne purporting to be too busy to attend the rallies.
Of course, accusations of sexism do not follow party lines and the Opposition could also be held to account for the experiences of women within its ranks.
So far Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has contrasted Morrison’s handling of the situation. He started the day of the rallies holding a baby at a photo op that could have backfired had he and other Labor MPs not turned out in force at the rallies later in the day.
While the Opposition Leader was inviting Labor women alleging sexual harassment or assault to come forward, the Prime Minister responded to questions in Parliament about March 4 Justice by saying protests in other countries are ‘met with bullets’.
To make matters worse, former Federal Liberal MP Julia Banks tweeted a photo of her male colleagues walking away from her as she addressed Parliament on sexism. “They still try to stop the truth but nothing will stop the truth-tellers and gender equality advocates,” she said.
This is all a PR disaster for the Prime Minister who barely two months earlier may have thought he had delivered a rebranding masterstroke for the Liberal Party by naming Ms. Tame Australian of the Year.
Today, with both the Attorney-General and Defence Minister on sick leave following recent revelations and his refusal to hold an independent investigation into serious allegations, the Prime Minister is in crisis management mode.
So what should he have done differently?
Leaving political preferences aside, there are some simple golden rules of crisis management that could be learnt from the master class delivered by Victorian Premier Dan Andrews during COVID.
First of all, turn up. There is no hiding from or deflecting the allegations. Andrews fronted an often hostile media day after day during the COVID lockdown and answered their questions until they ran out of them.
Express empathy to the people affected and understanding of what they may have experienced. Not through the lens of what your wife said but rather through the experience of the individuals concerned.
Apologise to all those who have been impacted by sexism and who are victims of harassment and violence. This does not mean conceding specific allegations are true.
Acknowledge that, as a man, you do not understand what it is like to experience gendered harassment or violence. Express desire to understand.
Take responsibility for what you are ultimately accountable for as Andrews did for the issues of hotel quarantine.
In the same vein, admit when you are wrong or agree to investigate alleged wrongdoing as Andrews did. Morrison could start by apologising for his missteps such as not attending the rally and trying to reframe his position.
Why do all this? Because it shows to the people who elected you and who you represent that you are listening and that you will act. It signals you believe them, value them and respect them.
For such a large voter base as women – who cannot believe that in 2021 they are still fighting for equality and safety and who feel ignored, abused and objectified – there is nothing more important.
As Grace Tame, said: Evil thrives in silence. Behaviour unspoken, behaviour ignored, is behaviour endorsed.”
Final word from our Culture Manager
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. It’s nihilistic and depressing, but it’s true. That’s why people get puppies. Now as a smart, healthy young poodle I still have some tricks up my sleeve. But that’s more than I can say for our website, which – for all its charm, is beginning to feel a little dated.
So we’re updating it! I’m proud to break the news. Stay tuned for a new and improved website, which is poised to go live very soon. Although it isn’t quite as exciting as a new puppy, we’re pretty excited.
So watch this space, because we will be premiering the new website in the next edition of 47. Now that’s something worth woofing about.