Did you notice how our Prime Minister shifted the debate away from violence against women?

Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison’s comments about the March 4 Justice rallies during Question Time strategically worked to change the national debate from violence against women to the virtues of liberal democracy. 

When he spoke in Parliament and after refusing to address the March 4 Justice Protest on the front lawn of Parliament House, he deflected from violence against women to the virtues of living in a liberal democracy.  This is how he did it.

Scott Morrison, Parliament House on March 4, 2021
 Delivered by Scott Morrison on March 4, 2021 in  House of Representatives, Parliament House Canberra
Rhetorical language choices.
Opening statement – recounting the event
Today, here and in many cities across our country women and men are gathering togetherin rallies both large and small, to call for change and to act against violence directed towards women
Women and men are doing three things: Gathering together; Calling for change; and Acting against violence against women.
It is good and right, Mr Speaker, [[that so many are able to gather here in this way, whether in our capitol or elsewhere, and to do so peacefully, to express their concerns and their very genuine and real frustrations]].
PM positively evaluates gathering together as good and right. PM evaluates on only one of the three acts, that of gathering together in a generalised sense, noting that it is peaceful.   He says nothing more about calling for change or acting against violence towards women
This is a vibrant liberal democracy, Mr Speaker
This refers to Australia. PM aligns peaceful gatherings with a positive evaluation of Australia’s form of government as vibrant
Not far from here such marches even now are being met with bullets, but not here in this country, Mr. Speaker.  Not in this country.
PM compares this with another form of government which meets peaceful gatherings with violence (bullets).  The implication in this statement is that Australia doesn’t shoot people who gather peacefully unlike another country. 
evaluationThis is a triumph of democracy when we see these things take place…..This refers to the ability to gather safely without being shot. PM overtly announces that the Australian form of government is a triumph, a winner in the debate on which form of government is better. The implication here is that Australian’s should celebrate the fact that their government affords them the ability to gather safely.  Australians are on a winner.

No mention of violence against women.
Analysis of Morrison’s words.

Scott Morrison worked hard to distract the media and commentators away from the very potent issue of violence against women, which is happening in our parliament, to a debate on the best form of government.

Below are some responses:

“This is not the example to celebrate the notion of liberal democracy”, Natasha Stott Despoja, UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

“To be fair to the Prime Minister … he was championing Australia’s democracy, and he was championing the cause of those outside Parliament.  I know people have been taking pot shots at him, but the reality is he is providing the leadership that we need.”, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg

“That final comment that we should be grateful that we are in a place that you don’t get shot for marching was so off the mark.  This is the moment when women are raising up their voices for change”, Tanya Plibersek, Labor Frontbencher.

“I think the observation about the opportunity to protest peacefully and safely in Australia is an important one.  Our democracy does provide Australians with that opportunity. Our role now is to own the problems, to own the failings and most importantly to own the solutions – that is out focus.”, Marise Payne, Minister for Women.

One final note…. For me, the sad aftermath of Morrison’s rhetoric is the fact that discussion in relation to acts of sexual violence such as rape and assault and the need to do something about this through cultural change and policy settings are absent from the debates.  In my view he successfully deflected away from the specifics and the impact that would have on his leadership, his government and his policies in relation to violence against women.  I’m hoping that he won’t get away with it.  The issue will not go away so easily.  Women and men across Australia are activated and want real change now. Those that want the debate are still working hard to keep the debate on the national agenda. More stories are coming out and more perpetrators are being identified. Let’s keep going.



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