With the prime minister busy getting jabbed, fighting Facebook and sending congratulatory videos to sports commentators, Madonna King has stepped in to write the speech he needs to give to the young women of Australia.
I was wrong. Let me say that again to Brittany Higgins and anyone else who has listened to me make public statements about this sordid stain on my government’s history. I. Was. Wrong.
Brittany Higgins’ bravery and courage needs to be acknowledged and acted on. To the other young woman, too frightened or not wanting to share their names and identities with the nation, I understand.
I understand that you are hurting. I understand that you have been wronged — initially, and then again when you tried to alert someone in authority. I understand that this is something I need to take more seriously than I did. I am sorry.
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My references to this being an issue for all sides is true I believe, but this one is squarely on my side. The Liberal side of politics. The government. I understand that, and I accept that.
I also understand that there are probably other young women who have not yet spoken up. If you can find it in yourself, please come forward for the sake of others. But if you can’t, I understand that also. I simply implore you to seek help. You shouldn’t have to deal with this by yourself.
When I said I was wrong, I meant it. I wasn’t wrong to ask Jenny, though, and I want to be clear here. In this world we all have sounding boards, people we trust who can help us see something through another prism or with a particular clarity. I should seek her counsel, and the counsel of my daughters, more often.
But I was wrong to immediately push the self-interest button. I’m sorry I sounded like a politician and not a human being. I missed the humanity this situation needed so desperately. The humanity to wonder how a young woman with a commitment to her work deals with the fallout of what happened to her. How is she coping? How is her family coping? I have reached out to them this morning. I understand why they have not yet responded.
I was also wrong in the inquiries I announced so quickly. It was puny politics. I saw that on the weekend as I scrolled through social media seeing the stories of other young women, even at school, with the hidden secret of a sexual assault weighing them down.
I’ve been called every name under the sun for invoking my family, but the truth is that made me think of my daughters and how, as a father, I would feel if they ever had to hide a secret like that. That helped me to see how damn wrong I’ve been.
I am a father. A proud one. But I acknowledge I am also prime minister of this country. We can all learn from the strength of its young women, led by Brittany Higgins. I can learn from their strength.
That is behind this announcement today.
The inquiries I initially announced have been disbanded. A new one drawn up with the help of Ms Higgins and other young women will begin shortly. It will include school principals, mental health advocates, domestic violence experts and champions for women and girls including Tracey Spicer, Mia Freedman and Rebecca Sparrow.
I’ve already put in a call to Dr Samantha Crompvoets, the sociologist whose report sparked the Brereton war crimes inquiry, and Dr Vivienne Thom, former inspector-general of intelligence and security. They’ve seen this behaviour elsewhere. And perhaps they can help us see it more clearly too.
This inquiry will have the power to investigate allegations, and chart a path forward so that our legacy will be Ms Higgins’ legacy: a new culture that goes far beyond Parliament House to embrace and empower the young women of this country.
And I’ll endeavour to show strength in this way. Every recommendation will be implemented. Thank you. I’ll now take questions.