02 April 2021 Posted By : Andi Yu

Nationals must 'do better' on women issue

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has called on his party to "do better" when it comes to the treatment of women and has apologised broadly to anyone who has felt unsupported.

In his address to the Nationals' federal conference in Canberra on Saturday, the party leader addressed "behaviour not befitting our federal parliament and that is gut-wrenching".

He said those who had brought the house of national democracy into disrepute were few and did not represent the majority of "hard-working" and "honourable" people who work there.

"Behaviour of this nature must stop, and must stop now," he said.

"As with all workplaces in our nation, all homes, all places where people gather - we should be respectful.

"No female, no person, should ever feel unsafe in their workplace.

"No person should tolerate harassment of any kind or other inappropriate behaviour.

"We can all do better and we must do better."

Mr McCormack also apologised to anyone who has felt unsupported.

"And - if there have been those people who tell us they haven't had that support they needed, then I am sorry.

"I'm sorry for those people and I will work, as I know all my colleagues will, to provide that support, to provide that respect and to provide that decency."

He says the Nationals party room has agreed to undergo empathy training to improve their workplace culture.

"If we can learn from an expert ... and actually learn a few tips on how to not only be better ourselves, but how to call out others for it, then I think that's a good thing," Mr McCormack told ABC

His comments come in the context of a growing crisis around sexual discrimination and abuse in federal politics, including the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins at Parliament House by a colleague in 2019, a Liberal staffer's lewd sex act on a female MP's desk, and Liberal MP Andrew Laming's trolling of two women on social media.

The Nationals leader also used the conference to spruik his party's achievements and vision to the party faithful.

As parts of Australia wait for fatal and devastating floodwaters to disperse, his pitch entailed plans to expand the regional network of dams, weirs and pipelines.

"I am absolutely delighted to announce the government will establish through the National Water Grid Authority, a fund dedicated to building more smaller, targeted dams, weirs and pipelines throughout rural and regional Australia," he said.

The party will seek applications of up to $20 million from each state and territory to be matched by the government for smaller water projects to be built.

Mr McCormack also used the stage to champion the benefits of regional living, where communities are "big enough to get a good cup of coffee and small enough to still care".

He added that city dwellers are moving in large numbers to the regions, which have proved to be the safest locations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The regions are the hotspot opportunity, with 56,510 job vacancies showing online," he said.

"From the coalminer to the nurse, from the farm labourer to the truckie, good jobs are there."

Some regional centres have received hundreds of millimetres of rain in the past 10 days and Mr McCormack said the coalition federal government had been quick to respond with flood assistance.

The Nationals conference is scheduled to run on Saturday and Sunday, with addresses by deputy leader and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud and the party's Senate leader Bridget McKenzie.

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