Australians call for tougher laws on violence against women after killings

melbourne protest 28 April
Large numbers of people demonstrated in Melbourne on Sunday [Getty Images]
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Rallies have taken place across Australia in response to a wave of recent violence against women.

Demonstrators want gender-based violence to be declared a national emergency and stricter laws put in place to stop it.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the issue was a national crisis.

In Australia, a woman has been killed on average every four days so far this year.

Organiser Martina Ferrara said: "We want alternative reporting options for victim survivors to let them own their stories and own their healing and reporting journey.

"And we want the government to acknowledge this is an emergency action and take immediate action."

Speaking at a march in the capital Canberra attended by thousands of protesters, Mr Albanese admitted the government at all levels needed to do better.

"We need to change culture, the attitudes, the legal system and the approach by all governments," he said.

"We need to make sure that this isn't up to women, it's up to men to change men's behaviour as well," he added.

Anthony Albanese
Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese addressed a rally in Canberra on Sunday [EPA]

Responding to calls by protestors for violence against women to be classified as a national emergency, Mr Albanese said the classification was normally used during floods or bushfires to release a temporary injection of cash.

"We don't need one month or two months - we need to address this in a serious way, week by week, month by month, year by year," he said.

As some in the crowd criticised him, Mr Albanese suggested that he had been told ahead of time that he would not be allowed to speak at the rally - prompting a tense exchange with organiser Sarah Williams.

"That's a lie. That's a full out lie," Ms Williams can be heard saying in video of the incident, before appearing to burst into tears.

In a statement on Monday, Ms Williams said the prime minister had demanded to speak "because he was being heckled" and accused him of behaving like "a man with power trying to diminish a vulnerable young woman".

"I was happy to just attend as a participant or happy to speak, either way," Mr Albanese told Seven News, urging that the controversy should not serve as "a distraction from what is a very serious issue indeed".

Australia's federal attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, has rejected holding a royal commission into gender-based violence.

Mr Albanese has repeatedly called gender-based violence an epidemic but it's not new: in 2021, marches took place across the country over allegations of sexual misconduct within the parliament and society.

In Adelaide, it was estimated around 3,000 people rallied outside the city's parliament building on Saturday.

Protests have also taken place in Brisbane, Melbourne, the Gold Coast and Newcastle over Friday and Saturday, 9News reported.

Recent killings have put the issue back in the spotlight.

Earlier this month, a man stabbed six people to death in a Sydney shopping centre. Five of the victims were women and the police are looking at whether they were the target.

New South Wales Police Force commissioner Karen Webb said "the offender focused on women and avoided the men".

The rallies also coincided with the charging of a man with the alleged murder of 30-year-old mother-of-four Erica Hay, who was found dead after a house fire in Perth earlier this month.

In all, 27 women have been killed in the first 119 days of 2024, according to data compiled by the campaign group Destroy the Joint.

sydney protest 27 april
There were similar demonstrations in Sydney on Saturday [Getty Images]