17 March 2021
Ms TRISH DOYLE (Blue Mountains) (19:00): We are all well aware of what has been in the media recently regarding sexual assault, what has happened in Federal Parliament as well as the shocking public disclosures of what has been happening in high schools across our country. Former Sydney student Chanel Contos has become a household name in recent weeks. Her petition calling for better consent education in Australian schools has attracted almost 36,500 signatures in three weeks and her website has been flooded with more than 3,000 testimonies of sexual assault from current and former school students. What does this tell us? It tells us that we have a real crisis on our hands.
What kind of society have we become when sexual violence is so prevalent? I commend and thank Chanel for her wisdom, courage and determination to set the wheels in motion to bring about essential, long‑overdue change. Her voice and the voices of all those who have shared their stories thus far have shone a blinding spotlight on this scourge in our society, showing us that the time to make amends is now. The uncomfortable reality of what is happening in our schools, homes, streets and society as a whole is now part of an important national conversation. In 2019 the NSW Women's Alliance called for the prevention of gender‑based violence to be a key priority in New South Wales secondary schools. It said:
Whole school respectful relationships education programs help students, staff, parents and community members to understand the drivers of gender-based violence and how they can change their attitudes and behaviours to prevent violence.
The New South Wales Government has been talking up its ongoing once‑in‑a‑generation curriculum review, but it has failed to present us with a plan that addresses the issues of harassment, rape and sexual assault in our schools or in our parliaments. I say in this place that NSW Labor demands action. We will not accept anything less than a holistic, comprehensive and in‑depth review that tackles head‑on the challenges of teaching consent and brings about real reform in our school curriculum. I thank my NSW Labor colleagues, Marjorie O'Neill, Prue Car and Jihad Dib, in particular for leading the way with me in pushing for this most crucial of reforms. This cannot become an issue that saturates our headlines for a week or two and then fades into the background.
Programs already exist today, such as Love Bites and Social and Safe, that embrace early intervention strategies that discuss healthy relationships, consent, rape and domestic violence. The task of achieving better, age‑appropriate consent education in Australian schools is not impossible. It is far from it. It will require a collaborative, bipartisan approach. A student in my electorate, 14‑year‑old Alice, shared something with me recently after discussions at home and amongst her friends about what has been in the media of late. She is 14. This is an excerpt from what she wrote:
I want to run until my legs make me stop and my lungs catch a breath of fresh air. I want to lie in the grass for so long that my skin feels itchy afterwards. But as a young woman I know never to walk alone or to show too much, just in case. So would I run for fun or out of fear? Would I lie in the grass to appreciate the world we live in, or would I have been pushed to the ground, full of fear? How do I prepare myself for what might happen? What struck me most after reading that is that here is a young woman who is yet to experience a relationship or fall in love, but already she has learned to fear. What has become of our society when young women have an expectation that sexual assault could very well happen to them? They expect it. That is shocking. I want to talk about a comment that was left on my Facebook page recently, too. I said:
Every one of us must be part of changing gendered violence.
All of us.
Every one of us has a responsibility to call out the horrors of violence, of sexual assault, harassment, rape.
I received lots of positive support, but one comment said:
… We have become a weak insipid, society that has been fuelled by feminist propergander brigade.
I want to say a couple more significant things. First, I believe Nicki Scott. Stand strong, sister. Justice will be served. Second, I acknowledge and thank the many good men and boys who exist in this world—those seeking change just as much as their daughters and their wives, their sisters and their mothers. I thank my remarkable sons in particular for being the next generation of change. Finally, for the feminist propaganda brigade—if that badge means I am a woman who dedicates her life to advocating for the equal rights of women and girls everywhere, if it means I can do something to help shape a world where women live free from violence and discrimination, and if it means we can raise a generation of girls who do not grow up to expect that sexual harassment or domestic violence or rape is something they will one day endure—I wear that badge with the deepest of pride and steely determination.