Rape conviction rate in the spotlight as women’s numbers grow in Cabinet

Dealing with the low conviction rate in rape cases will be a high priority for a new cabinet-level body headed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Women Marise Payne.

Mar 30, 2021, updated Mar 30, 2021
Australia's foreign Minister Marise Payne says a war over Ukraine is "not inevitable".(AAP photo).

Australia's foreign Minister Marise Payne says a war over Ukraine is "not inevitable".(AAP photo).

Morrison announced on Monday a record seven women would be in his reshuffled cabinet, all of whom would sit on a task force to focus on women’s equality, safety, economic security and health.

One of the key issues raised during the recent debate on the treatment of women has been the low rate of convictions following allegations of rape made to police.

Studies have found in almost nine out of 10 cases, women who have experienced aggravated sexual assault by a male did not contact the police, for a range of reasons.

Of those incidents that do get reported, fewer than a third lead to an arrest, summons, formal caution or other legal action.

Senator Payne said there was more work at a state and federal level to be done on the “difficult process” of pursuing criminal justice in cases of sexual assault.

“We will be endeavouring to bring those jurisdictions with us in that conversation to make sure we can address those concerns and remove the barriers that exist,” she said.

“The phase that we hear often is: ‘I didn’t think I would be taken seriously.

“That’s not what our criminal justice system is here to do – our criminal justice system is here to take victims of crime, whatever it is, seriously and I think there is more work to be done in that area.”

Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek said there was a pile of reports sitting on the prime minister’s desk dealing with women’s safety.

“So much of the work has been done. So many recommendations have been made. What we’ve really been lacking is a government willing to act on them,” she said.

“Words matter, but actions matter more.”

Work is underway on a new national action plan – due to start in June 2022 – to reduce violence against women.

Payne said a meeting with state and territory women’s safety ministers next week would progress the plan.

Parliament has been rocked by allegations of rape, sexual harassment and other poor behaviour towards women in recent weeks.

Payne said the solution lay in all MPs seeking to “own the problems, to own the failings and ultimately to own the solution”.

Meanwhile, Morrison is resisting pressure to sack disgraced backbencher Andrew Laming despite Queensland Police receiving information about an alleged incident in 2019.

Laming will not contest the election but will remain in the coalition party room after admitting to bullying, stalking and harassing several women.

The Queenslander is also under fire for allegedly taking a photo of a woman whose underwear was showing as she bent over in the workplace, which is a criminal offence punishable by up to three years in prison.

The woman and a witness to the incident on Monday told Nine News they had initiated a complaint with Queensland Police.

But police later said the woman had spoken to them on Monday afternoon and was “not proceeding with a formal complaint at this time”.

“Police are in the initial stages of assessing allegations against a man,” a police spokesperson said in a statement.

Laming claims the photo attempted to show someone trying to fit an impossible amount of stock into a fridge.

Morrison said the MP for Bowman had committed to undertake a behavioural course.

“He needs to come back with a completely different attitude and completely different behaviour,” the prime minister told reporters.

Liberal senator Sarah Henderson says Laming should be booted from the coalition, which would plunge the government into minority.

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