Media Centre - Media release - 3 March 2021

David Leyonhjelm defamation appeal loss sends a powerful and timely signal to girls

In response to the news that former senator David Leyonhjelm has lost his bid to overturn a ruling that he defamed Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena said today:

“After a week in which we have heard deeply disturbing allegations of sexual assault from our Parliament, today’s ruling sends an incredibly powerful and timelty message to girls that poor treatment of women in political life should never be tolerated.”

Senator Hanson-Young named Plan International Australia as one of two organisations that would share any damages awarded to her out of respect for its mission to end harassment, abuse and inequality for girls and young women in Australia and internationally.

Ms Legena said Plan International Australia, whilst non-partisan, is pleased Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has recognised the organisation’s work to eliminate sexism from politics in Australia.

“We congratulate senator Hanson-Young and extend our gratitude that she has nominated Plan International Australia as one of the charities that she will direct funds from the ruling towards to assist with our work as the leading charity for girls equality.”

She described Ms Hanson-Young’s defamation win as a sorely needed “watershed moment” for the fight to rid politics of sexism.

The dismissal of Mr Leyonhjelm’s appeal comes following polling released by Plan International Australia in 2019* revealed 90% of girls and young women polled say female politicians are not treated fairly compared to their male counterparts. This was compared to 37% of young men surveyed.

“It’s deeply concerning but not surprising that most Australian girls think women politicians aren’t treated equally in this country, given the dreadful sexist behaviour they see in our Parliament,” said Ms Legena.

“Our research finds girls become increasingly cynical of sexism in politics as they grow older – just 9% of young women aged 22 to 25 think women receive equal treatment in politics, versus 33% of men in that age group.

“This survey supports research we did with young women in 2017 that found not a single one of them wanted to become a politician. Is it any wonder why? Girls are growing up in Australia seeing women in politics, and in other public spaces, being judged on their looks, belittled for their sexuality and gender, and even subjected to reports of sexual abuse.”

This is bad news for all of us, because it discourages girls from pursuing politics or other positions in the public eye, effectively pushing them out of public spaces and silencing their voices.

“We are sorry that Senator Hanson-Young had to relive the awful slurs thrown at her through this protracted process, but the silver lining is that her bravery in highlighting this awful behaviour and confronting the person who perpetrated it head-on, sends a strong message that sexism and abuse must never be tolerated, either in our parliament or out in the wider community.“

For further comment please contact Plan International Australia media and ambassador manager James Norman on 0451291775 or public relations advisor Claire Knox on 0452326549


* Plan International Australia’s 2019 survey of 314 boys, men, girls and women found:

  •  Three-quarters of young women say it’s harder for women to become politicians (versus 57% of young men). Most young women (77%) also think female politicians are treated unfairly by the media and also by their male counterparts (70% said this was the case)
  • Two-thirds of young women say that female politicians are regularly talked over (67%).
  • Young women care about politics and their interest increases as they grow older – from just 37% for the 15-17 age group, to 51% by the time they are 18-21, and 58% for the 22-25 age group. Contrastingly, males’ interest remained fairly consistent across age groups
  • Views on family commitments were starkly different between the sexes. Men and boys were twice as likely to agree with the statement ‘women should focus on family life before political life’, at one in three (32%) versus on in five young women (18%)
  • The younger age group, 15-17, had the most significant difference of opinion for this question, with 46% of teenage boys agreeing that women need to focus on family versus only 10% of teenage girls
  • Young women were twice as likely to believe sexism is a big problem in Australian society in general (44% agreed this was the case, compared to 23% of young men)

Media contacts

Claire Knox

Media & PR Advisor
0452 326 549

Keep up to date