Government investigating ‘threatening’ phone call claim

The body responsible for the Australia Day Awards has denied any of its members had a “threatening” conversation with former Australian of the Year Grace Tame, as the federal government investigates her claim she was told to avoid publicly criticizing the Prime Minister.

Today at her National Press Club address alongside Brittany Higgins, Ms Tame said she was contacted by a senior staffer of a government-funded organization, which she did not name, and asked to refrain from saying anything “damning” about Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Just hours after the former Australian of the Year told this story for the first time, Women’s Safety Minister Anne Ruston said a probe had been launched.

Advocate for survivors of sexual assault and abuse, Grace Tame during their address to the National Press Club of Australia in Canberra on Wednesday 9 February 2022. (ABC)

“I was unaware of the accusations until I heard them today at the Press Club and my understanding is that no one else in government was aware of that until that time,” she said.

“I think we need to find out the circumstances around exactly what’s happened and transpired here but obviously the consequences need to match up with the action that’s been taken.”

A spokesperson for the National Australia Day Council, which is responsible for the Australia Day Awards, said it had contacted Ms Tame and her management about the “specifics” of the conversation she referred to.

“The NADC has spoken to a number of personnel who have had conversations with Ms Tame over the past year, none of whom had interactions with Ms Tame that would be considered ‘threatening’, as the 17 August conversation has been described,” the spokesperson said, in a statement.

They said award recipients were free to use their platform any way they saw fit and that the “NADC has always sought to support Ms Tame throughout her tenure as Australian of the Year”.

Earlier in the day, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said any such call to Ms Tame would be considered “unacceptable” and called for an apology.

“The first the PM or Prime Minister’s Office became aware of that allegation was during today’s Press Club speeches,” a spokesperson for Mr Morrison said.

“The PM has not and would not authorize such actions and at all times has sought to treat Ms Tame with dignity and respect.”

Scott Morrison maroon
The Prime Minister’s Office has said it did not and would not authorize a call like this to Ms Tame. (Getty)

The spokesperson said Ms Tame should be “free to speak her mind and conduct herself as she chooses.”

“While Ms Tame has declined to name the individual, the individual should apologise,” the spokesperson said.

“Those comments were not made on behalf of the PM or PMO or with their knowledge.

“The PM and the government consider the actions and statements of the individual as unacceptable.”

Ms Tame has claimed an investigation into the call “misses the point entirely”.

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‘You are an influential person. He will have a fear

Speaking to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Ms Tame said the senior staffer was “asking for my word that I would not say anything damning about the Prime Minister on the evening of the next Australian of the Year awards” on August 17 last year.

“‘You are an influential person. He will have a fear,’ they said,” Ms Tame said in her speech.

“Fear? What kind of fear – I asked myself. A fear for our nation’s most vulnerable?

“A fear for the future of our plan? And then I heard the words – ‘with an election coming soon’.”

Advocate for survivors of sexual assault and abuse, Grace Tame during their address to the National Press Club of Australia in Canberra on Wednesday 9 February 2022. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Advocate for survivors of sexual assault and abuse, Grace Tame during their address to the National Press Club of Australia in Canberra on Wednesday 9 February 2022. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen (Alex Ellinghausen)

Ms Tame went on to say she believed Mr Morrison feared being discredited if she spoke her mind about his handling of issues of harassment and abuse faced by Australian women.

“A fear he might lose his position or, more to the point, his power,” she said.

“Sound familiar to anyone? Well, it does to me.”

“Repeatedly this year, I have seen the patterns of deception and deceit performed by predators mimicked in our halls of power. And that’s just it.”

Ms Tame delved into how threats and a culture of fear perpetuated environments where abuse could be perpetrated.

“I remember standing in the shadow of a trusted authority figure, being threatened in just the same veiled way,” she said.

Grace Tame has become a staunch advocate for survivors of sexual abuse. (Getty)

“I remember him saying I will lose my job if anyone hears about that – ‘and you would not want that, would you? No.’

“What I wanted at that moment is the same thing I want right now – and that is an end to the darkness, an end to sexual violence, safety, equity, respect, a better future for all of us.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison smiles along with 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame at the Lodge in Canberra. (Alex Ellinghausen)

Ms Tame was condemned by some for perceived impoliteness, while many others praised her for refusing to compromise her opinions for a photo opportunity.

Mr Morrison said later he had “raised no issues” with the photos, calling Ms Tame “passionate” and thanking her for her work as Australian of the Year.

Ms Tame herself said women were “sick” of being told to smile.

When questioned about the incident she simply replied: “I act with integrity. That’s it.”

Tame says she is still subject of threats

Ms Tame was groomed, stalked and sexually abused by a teacher at her high school in Tasmania from 1992 until she reported him in 2011 when she was 16 years old.

She said he had been known to be a predator before she was even born and spoke about other men and women who witnessed his behavior during his 18-year tenure.

They told her they wished they had not “turned a blind eye”.

2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame during the 2022 Australian of the Year awards reception at Government House in Canberra on Monday 24 January 2022. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame during the 2022 Australian of the Year awards reception at Government House. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen (Sydney Morning Herald)

Despite all this, Ms Tame said she’s been subjected to abuse and online vitriol, with some people still blaming her for her own abuse.

“But, sure, I was the predator. It was all my fault,” she said.

“If I can still be shamed into believing that today, it is no wonder that even amid this national reckoning, with all the empowerment it has generated for survivors, many still remain hesitant to publicly come forward with their stories.”

For years Tasmania’s gag laws meant Ms Tame was unable to speak out, while her abuser bragged on Facebook.

She went on to win permission from the Supreme Court to tell her story in 2019.

‘The reforms don’t go far enough’

Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins, recommended 55 reforms to better protect workers from toxic workplace culture and sexual harassment in her world-first Respect at Work report.

However, the Federal Government only agreed to implement six.

Maurice Blackburn Principal Lawyer Alexandra Grayson told 9news.com.au the most critical exclusion was the “positive duty” clause, which would see workplaces move from a complaints-based system to a preventative one, ensuring greater protections for workers.

“The main area that the government hasn’t acted upon is the imposition of a positive duty for an employer to take all reasonable and proportionate steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace,” Ms Grayson said.

Advocates for survivors of sexual assault and abuse, Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins, during their address to the National Press Club of Australia in Canberra on Wednesday 9 February 2022. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Advocates for survivors of sexual assault and abuse, Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins, during their address to the National Press Club of Australia in Canberra on Wednesday 9 February 2022. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen (Sydney Morning Herald)

“That reform was designed to move from a system where men and women of Australia had to litigate or make a complaint because they’d been sexually harassed or discriminated against, to one where a preventative model was in place.”

Ms Grayson said there was not enough focus on the prevention of sexual assault or harassment in Australian workplaces.

Ensuring a “safe culture” should be the responsibility of employers who could improve work environments through risk assessments, modeling good behavior and enforcing company policies, Ms Grayson said.

“Essentially ensuring people do conduct themselves in an appropriate way,” she said.

Ms Grayson has called on the government to consider a more proactive approach to legislate change, claiming the six reforms agreed upon do not go far enough.

“It’s been years since this Jenkins report was handed down,” she said.

“The government hasn’t taken them seriously. I think that’s to the detriment to the working women and men of Australia.”

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

National Domestic Violence Service: 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).

If you are in immediate danger call Triple Zero (000).

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