Edwards slams misogyny, racism

IN the midst of an explosive day of parliament, member for Bendigo West Maree Edwards gave a speech saying "misogyny is alive and well in the ranks of the Liberal Party in Bendigo".

She took aim at her former opponent for the seat Jack Lyons, using his comments on social media as the basis for a blistering attack on the core of the Liberal Party.

The speech moved from the dangers of casual misogyny, to gender inequality, the objectification of women and the damage racism can cause in the community.

This is her full speech, delivered in parliament at 11.45am on Wednesday:

It is with a deep sense of frustration with the never-ending discrimination within the ranks of the Liberal Party that I rise to grieve for the people of Bendigo, especially the people of Bendigo West, who have been exposed to the disgusting, vile, outrageous and inappropriate commentary of a Liberal Party member and a man who was the Liberal Party's first choice as a candidate for Bendigo West at the November state election. The comments made by Jack Lyons were an affront to the people of Bendigo, to every woman, to every person from a different culture and to the people of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (GLBTIQ) communities.

It is apparent that misogyny is alive and well in the ranks of the Liberal Party in Bendigo. It is well known that sexist jokes and misogynistic language help to reinforce gender stereotypes and normalise violent behaviour against women. That the Liberal Party's candidate for Bendigo West defended his misogynistic comments as jokes reveals that these defamatory attitudes towards women still exist and are pervasive within the ranks of the Bendigo Liberals. Rape jokes are not funny -- ever.

Offensive remarks that reproduce and maintain dominant patriarchal narratives often masquerade and get away with it successfully by being referred to as mere funny jokes. Humour is a very effective and ubiquitous tool in normalising and perpetuating patriarchal oppression: because it is a joke we are just supposed to laugh it off.

Humour is also used as a way to shame and silence people so that they fail to question or challenge the underlying meanings embedded in the oh-so-innocent jokes. I can assure this house that I, for one, will not be silenced on this matter.

I refer to comments made in yesterday's Bendigo Advertiser by Margaret Augerinos, CEO at the Centre for Non-Violence, that reinforce why no-one should tolerate sexism. She said:

What this reflects is a general belief that sexist jokes or jokes that make fun of women getting raped are not harmful ... If you think something is funny that reflects sexist or racist attitudes that is problematic. They're harmful in that they help perpetuate views that say (sexism) is okay.

... It is offensive when you look at the statistics about violence against women in society.

We have a significant rise in family violence across our region, and I would like to say at this point that only the Labor Party has put forward the idea and policy to have a royal commission into family violence should it win the election in November.

Further proof of the attitude of the Liberals towards women has been evidenced in comments made by the current Minister for Women's Affairs, the member for Bayswater, who, as we all remember, said it would be naive and unrealistic to think equal gender representation could be achieved in Parliament because women are generally nurturers and politics is demanding. Obviously this attitude permeates the whole of the Liberal Party given that there is only one woman on the federal Liberal government's frontbench.

One of the comments made by Jack Lyons that I found particularly and personally offensive referred to women who are breastfeeding. As a former counsellor and Bendigo group leader for what was the Nursing Mothers Association and is now the Australian Breastfeeding Association, and as a mother of four children who were all breastfed, I found this comment to be particularly insulting, vile and an indication of why women still have an uphill battle when it comes to doing the most natural thing in life -- that is, to give sustenance to their children. We know cultural change takes time, but I would have thought that in 2014 we as a society had moved beyond seeing breastfeeding as being in any way a sexual act.

The current candidate for Bendigo East, Greg Bickley, has accused me and the member for Bendigo East of using the resignation of Jack Lyons as Liberal candidate for Bendigo West as an opportunity to score political points. Mr Bickley's comments show just how out of touch the Bendigo Liberals are with community opinion. His comments diminish the seriousness of this matter.

It is a serious matter that goes to the heart of respect, to the heart of values and to the very core of why women have to continually fight for respect in a culture that allows them to be continually treated as sexual objects and denied equality. As Mr Bickley has said, there is no place in our society for offensive comments of this nature. That is why it is imperative that when we see racism of this magnitude, when we see misogyny at its worst and when we see or hear of homophobia, then we have an obligation to call it for what it is and to remind people that it will not be tolerated.

Jack Lyons's comments about Bendigo were contemptuous but not surprising, as we know the Liberal Party has a history of contempt towards Bendigo -- and who can forget the comments of the former Premier, Jeff Kennett, about Bendigo being the toenails of the state? This goes back over a decade, and here we are in 2014 and the Bendigo Liberals attitude to Bendigo and the region have not changed. Jack Lyons said that Bendigo needed an enema. That is outrageous.

Every person in Bendigo who has worked hard to build this great city, who has spent years driving infrastructure, driving our arts and culture, improving our economy and building a better Bendigo, has every right to be offended by this comment. Bendigo is a great city. It has people who are passionate about its future. It has people who work every day to make it a great city. Insulting these people and our great city shows that the Liberals in Bendigo have no belief in Bendigo's future or in its hardworking people. What Bendigo does not need are Liberal Party members who are prepared to tear down Bendigo's reputation and who have no vision for its future.

Bendigo has recently had its fair share of racism. Exacerbating this racism are comments made by Jack Lyons. Just a few weeks ago Bendigo held a community rally -- a say no to racism rally. It was a rally that attracted people who were prepared to stand up and say that they would not tolerate racism in our city. Jack Lyons was not present at that rally. Greater Bendigo City Council's decision to approve the planning for a mosque in Bendigo was the right decision because Bendigo is a tolerant, inclusive and welcoming city. Sadly the comments by the Liberal Party candidate have once again inflamed the racism issue. This is not what Bendigo needs. The comments reveal that the Bendigo Liberals will say and do anything publicly, but it is vastly different to what they think in private.

Throughout the racism controversy -- which was well reported in every daily newspaper and across every media outlet for days -- there was not one comment from the Liberal candidate for Bendigo West.

From the Liberal candidate for Bendigo East there was just one comment. Greg Bickley said he was not fully across the issue. Seriously, Deputy Speaker? It is an issue that was making front-page headlines across Victoria -- and he was not fully across the issue! I would have thought that as a Liberal Party candidate he would have at least read the daily paper. Many community leaders have stood up against this racism, including me, the member for Bendigo East and the federal member for Bendigo. Many people have said they were disgusted and embarrassed by some of the anti-Muslim rhetoric being expressed, especially in a city that has a proud history of multiculturalism. Yet from the Bendigo Liberals there was silence.

And let us not forget that one of the drivers of this anti-Muslim racist campaign was none other than the failed 2010 Liberal candidate for Bendigo West.

The Bendigo Chinese Association has a long and proud history in Bendigo. The Chinese museum and the Chinese gardens bring enormous economic and cultural benefits to our great city. They are unique, and the Chinese have been part of Bendigo since the gold rush engulfed the city. That Jack Lyons would make fun of one of the most tranquil and beautiful gardens in the world is outrageous, but underlying these comments about the Chinese gardens is that racist, bigoted attitude that has been revealed. Last week the Premier was in Bendigo to sing 'Happy birthday' to a horse. During that visit he announced the withdrawal of a Liberal candidate for Western Victoria Region in the Council because of the candidate's homophobic comments and views. Standing alongside the Premier was the Liberal candidate for Bendigo West, whom we now know was harbouring similar views.

The Liberal Party in Victoria has a homophobic element to it; there is no question about that. There are Liberal members in this house and the other place whose comments about homosexuals are not only outrageous but absolutely outdated and far removed from popular opinion. While the Premier moves to get rid of Liberal candidates who hold these intolerant views, he allows members within the Liberal parliamentary party to continue their vile assaults against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities. This double standard is inexcusable, but it exposes just how divided the Liberal Party is. The Premier is so desperate to hold onto his slim majority that he will not speak out against these homophobes, nor will he move to have them sanctioned. Victoria and Bendigo deserve better than a Premier who is weak and unprepared to stand up to these people.

Bendigo and its region is facing a very challenging time. The federal Liberal budget will bring enormous hardship to many families and individuals across the region. Cuts in the federal budget are set to impact on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our community. The Liberal government we have had to endure here in Victoria for the last three and half years has created even more problems and challenges. At this point I would like to point out that The Nationals have deserted Bendigo, having declared that they will not stand candidates in either Bendigo East or Bendigo West. That party's reputation is just as tarnished as that of the Liberals. Its close proximity to and dependence on the Liberals and vice versa is obvious, and they are tarred with the same brush now.

Cuts to education, cuts to our health system and the failure to grow jobs across the region are impacting on families struggling to make ends meet.

A youth unemployment rate in Bendigo of over 20 per cent and the absolute assault on our TAFE system are legacies this Liberal government will forever be held accountable for.

In Bendigo and across the Loddon Mallee region we have a crisis in our ambulance system. We have a crisis in our mental health system. We have ramping of ambulances and delays have become the norm, putting people's lives at risk. Waiting times for elective surgery in Bendigo are the highest they have been for a decade. Waiting times for mental health patients at the emergency department have become a serious issue.

The lack of funding for mental health community service providers is putting mental health patients at risk and putting these service providers under enormous strain as they try to meet growing demand with less government support. Recent changes to the delivery of mental health services and drug and alcohol services across the region have thrown the providers of these services into disarray. The removal of face-to-face contact for people with a mental illness or people with drug and alcohol issues is a backward step.

It is no wonder the Premier has failed to address these crises in Bendigo and our region when he is so preoccupied with dealing with the crisis within his party. Bendigo and Victoria can no longer have any confidence in a government that is so strangled by its internal problems and conflicts of ideologies.

Yesterday I said that the resignation of the Liberal candidate for Bendigo West was not about the use of social media.

Today the Bendigo Advertiser editorial claims the comments made by Jack Lyons were silly. This whole issue cannot be excused by saying that Jack Lyons was just silly or immature for what he did or that social media use was the problem. This issue is about what he said, irrespective of through what avenue it was said. This issue is about values and attitudes that have no place in our society anymore, and they must be called out for what they are. The comments were racist and misogynist and sought to tear down Bendigo's reputation.

As I said in my inaugural speech to this house, I will endeavour to promote equality, tolerance and social justice always. And it is these values, these ethics and these principles that have and will continue to guide me as I represent the people of Bendigo West. My colleague the member for Bendigo East and I will not be silent when we see these values, these ethics and these principles being torn down by the Bendigo Liberals.

For the record, this is not about political point scoring; this is about decency, respect and standing up for what is right.

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