Albanese was so desperate to prove he cares about gendered violence, he forgot one thing: if you’re a proper leader, it’s not about you

Albanese was so desperate to prove he cares about gendered violence, he forgot one thing: if you’re a proper leader, it’s not about you

The world is full of imponderables at the moment. And for Australian women, you can add a new one to the list: How long is it going to take for us to get a prime minister whose response to reasonable female anger isn’t to trip spectacularly over his own tackle?

The footage of Anthony Albanese attempting to cope with the febrile environment outside Parliament House at Sunday’s domestic violence rally is nearly unwatchable.

Not because he’s a bad guy. But because it is just difficult to watch a political leader — whose entire skill set is supposed to be about competent judgement under fire — get it so horribly wrong.

Today, that prime minister will convene a meeting of the COVID-era National Cabinet to consider urgent action on the escalating rate at which women in this country are murdered by their partners or ex-partners.

More on that in a moment, but first, it’s worth a recap of what exactly happened on Sunday.

The “No More” rally in Canberra was organised by a group called What Were You Wearing? Australia (WWYWA), which describes itself as “an Indigenous-led not-for-profit organisation fighting to end sexual violence”. It was established and is led by a woman called Sarah Williams. She is 23.

Sunday’s rally was one of several around the nation in recent weeks. The Canberra crowd — including the Prime Minister, Status of Women Minister Katy Gallagher, and Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth — gathered on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin and walked peacefully to Parliament House. It is agreed by all that there was some back-and-forth with WWYWA about whether the PM or Gallagher would speak, but by the time the rally started, none of the politicians were on the planned speaking list.

When the group reached Parliament House, Ms Williams told her own story, a truly harrowing one of violence, fear, rape, flight and homelessness. To our nation’s shame, hers is not a rare story. What is rare, however, is for someone so young to find, so quickly, deep inside herself, in that broken place, the fortitude to convert her own pain into action for others.

And before another single word is said, it needs to be recognised that hardly anyone to whom such dreadful things have happened can do this. No-one should be expected to do it, or thought less courageous or heroic when they can’t. And when they do, the last thing any of us should expect is that they will be perfect at it. Full stop.

Which is why what happened next was so awful.

Let’s review the tape

Ms Williams had five demands of the government. She went through them one by one, as the ministers present knew she would. She asked the government to declare a national emergency. To teach domestic violence first responders not to blame victims, and to provide alternative reporting options beyond the police. To ban media from identifying domestic violence victims immediately after their deaths. And of course, more funding.

As she read out these demands, Ms Williams asked the ministers present to give her a thumbs-up or thumbs-down as to whether they would promise to fulfil them. The crowd grew — as crowds do — restive. There was heckling. People were demanding answers.

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