Mr Morrison said he did not usually attend protest marches in Canberra because his days were too busy. “But I’m very happy to receive a delegation and I’ll respectfully receive that as I’m sure they will respectfully engage with me,” he said. “I think that’s the right way to do this.”
The most senior woman in the Morrison government, Senator Marise Payne, also declined to attend the march, telling organisers she would instead receive their petition.
Janine Hendry, one of the march organisers, said they had declined a meeting with Senator Payne on Monday morning because they already had commitments. She said they were considering Mr Morrison’s invitation to meet with a delegation of three or four people.
The government and opposition have also agreed not to call divisions – a method of taking a vote that physically counts members voting – between midday and 1.30pm to allow MPs and senators to attend the march.
Ms Archer said the Prime Minister’s office was aware she wanted to attend the march. “The Prime Minister has personally been open to my view on this issue now and for some time.”
In her maiden speech in 2019, Ms Archer, a mother-of-five and former mayor of George Town Council, said her own childhood story was “painful and difficult to tell.”
“Like many other Australians, I have faced the challenges of living with childhood trauma, and that is a priority for me to address in my time in this place,” she said at the time.
“I share a small part of this deeply personal story today because I believe we must do more as a society to keep our children and families safe. I am proud to stand as a member of this government that has committed to do more to address the scourge of family, domestic and sexual violence.”
The marches, organised over the last two weeks, will span the country. They will be held in capital cities and country towns from Gosford to Katharine, Shearwater to Woombah. An event will also take place in London.
Speakers at the Melbourne rally will include former state Greens MP Huong Truong, who has experienced domestic violence and former federal Liberal MP Julia Banks, who left politics after raising concerns about the bullying and intimidation of women.
One organiser of the event, activist Marcella Brassett, said she got involved in the wake of Attorney-General Christian Porter’s press conference, in which he strenuously denied raping a woman. “I was deeply offended and deeply upset and angry and hurt, as a survivor, to see how our leaders spoke about victims of gendered violence, and dismissed them, without any humanity.”
Avan Daruwalla, 20, who is a student at ANU and works with sexual assault survivors, said it was never an option to say nothing.
“A lot of the work I do is about supporting survivors,” Ms Daruwalla said, “so it was never an option to say nothing.”
“I’m marching tomorrow and also speaking tomorrow because I think it’s time we take an active stand against gendered violence and stand up against institutional betrayal.”
The grassroots movement started with a tweet by Ms Hendry, a 58-year-old academic and designer, who pondered how many “extremely disgruntled” women it would take to link arms around Parliament House and stand in silent protest against discrimination and alleged sexual abuse in the nation’s Parliament.
Ms Hendry said her tweet had been sparked by the government’s handling of the alleged rape of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins and the disturbing testimonies of harassment and assault from former schoolgirls collected by Chanel Contos, who is petitioning for consent to be taught earlier in schools.
Speakers at other rallies include Australian of the Year Grace Tame in Hobart, Aboriginal elder Dr Tjanara Goreng Goreng in Canberra and Michael Bradley, the lawyer for the late woman who accused Mr Porter of raping her, in Sydney.
The Canberra event, to be hosted by Australian TV presenter Julia Zemiro, will no longer involve protesters linking arms around Parliament House, as had originally been planned, due to COVID restrictions. However, Ms Hendry tweeted they would still make an impact by showing up in their thousands.
Dozens of Greens and Labor MPs are expected to attend the rally in Canberra including Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and Labor’s spokeswoman for women and education Tanya Plibersek.
“We are pleased the government agreed to our request to suspend votes for an hour and a half so parliamentarians can attend the march,” Ms Plibersek said.
“Many Labor MPs and senators and our staff will be attending and we hope members of the government and crossbench will too.”
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack will not attend the march, saying he had prior commitments. He said he appreciated it was an important issue.
Nationals MP Dr Anne Webster, the federal MP for Mallee in Victoria, said she would attend the march if she could but it was not looking promising because her diary was full. She said it was “very wise” of the Prime Minister to offer to meet with a delegation of women from the march.
“I believe what women frequently feel is we are not heard and being heard is incredibly important to us,” Dr Webster said. “This is one way he can show he is listening and is hearing.”
Liberal MP for Higgins, Dr Katie Allen, was not attending the march but said she was very pleased that Senator Payne would be receiving the petition and the Prime Minister would be meeting with the organisers. “This issue is above politics,” Dr Allen said.
“It is time for change and the petition has four very reasonable requests including accepting the 55 recommendations from the respect@work report from Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, who is also leading the independent inquiry into the culture of Parliament House.”
Dr Allen said she had been “elected to be a strong voice inside the tent and that’s what I intend to keep doing.”
Dr Goreng Goreng said she believed Mr Morrison offered to meet with a delegation after figuring out the nation-wide marches were a big deal. “This big mob of women have decided to come together which shows there is a huge amount of feeling and emotion about recent events in Australia,” Dr Goreng Goreng said.
Thousands of people also gathered in London on Saturday for a vigil in tribute to murder victim Sarah Everard, whose death has sparked widespread anger and fear about women’s safety in Britain.
The 2017 Women’s March – held throughout the world the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump to support gender equality and civil rights – is widely believed to be the largest single-day demonstration in US history.
Another speaker at the Melbourne rally, Wurundjeri woman and social worker Sue-Anne Hunter, said sexual assault was rife in the community, particularly against Indigenous women, and there needed to be changes in how women were treated, particularly by males in government. More women were needed in positions “where they can make decisions around the systems that are around for women”.
Victorian Minister for Women Gabrielle Williams said the royal commission into family violence had brought the issue out into the open. “But a public discussion about sexual assault and abuse in our community has been slower to emerge. “That’s why the march is so important.”
With Paul Sakkal and Rob Harris
National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line: 1800 737 732. Crisis support can be found at Lifeline: (13 11 14 and lifeline.org.au), the Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467 and suicidecallbackservice.org.au) and beyondblue (1300 22 4636 and beyondblue.org.au).
Jewel Topsfield is social affairs editor at The Age. She has worked in Melbourne, Canberra and Jakarta as Indonesia correspondent. She has won multiple awards including a Walkley and the Lowy Institute Media Award.
Carolyn Webb is a reporter for The Age.