'Our country can do better': Grace Tame, Brittany Higgins slam inaction on sexual assault

Former Australian of the Year Grace Tame said she received a threatening call where she was urged not to say anything "damning" about the prime minister ahead of the election.

2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame (right) and advocate for survivors of sexual assault Brittany Higgins at the National Press Club in Canberra.

2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame (right) and advocate for survivors of sexual assault Brittany Higgins at the National Press Club in Canberra. Source: AAP

This article contains references to rape, sexual assault and child sexual abuse.

Former Australian of The Year Grace Tame has taken aim at the federal government for "making empty announcements, superficial last-minute acknowledgments and carefully staged photo ops" in a speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday.

Ms Tame, a child sexual abuse survivor, said: "Repeatedly this year, I have seen the patterns of deception and deceit performed by predators mimicked in our halls of power.

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"Facades and false hope. Reviews, reports, delays, and distractions - if not downright denials."



Ms Tame, who is an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, claimed that five months after being named 2021 Australian of the Year, she received a threatening phone call from a government-funded organisation last August.

"I received a threatening phone call from a senior member of a government-funded organisation, 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," she said.

“'You’re an influential person. He'll have a fear’, they said. 'A fear? What kind of fear?' I asked myself.

“A fear for our nation’s most vulnerable? A fear for the future of our planet?

“And then I heard the words, ‘with an election coming soon'."

2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame (left) and advocate for survivors of sexual assault Brittany Higgins address the National Press Club in Canberra, Wednesday, February 9, 2022. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING
2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame (left) and advocate for survivors of sexual assault Brittany Higgins address the National Press Club Source: AAP


“I remember standing in the shadow of a trusted authority figure, being threatened in just the same veiled way. I remember him saying, ‘I will lose my job if anyone hears about this, and you would not want that, would you? No’."

Ms Tame said she had spent a year being "re-victimised, commodified, objectified, sensationalised, delegitimised, gas-lit [and] thrown under the bus by the biased mainstream media". 

She said she would not back down and would keep advocating for the vulnerable and calling out injustices.

"I am here because I made a conscious decision to stand up to evil, and I have been calling out injustice ever since. To retreat into silence now would be hypocritical," she said.

"I would rather go down as a disappointment to an institution than sell out as a pandering political puppet to the corrupt forces that coercively control it."



A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said Scott Morrison first became aware of Ms Tame's allegation during her speech on Wednesday.

"The PM has not and would not authorise such actions and at all times has sought to treat Ms Tame with dignity and respect," the spokesperson said in a statement.

The spokesperson said: "Ms Tame should always be free to speak her mind and conduct herself as she chooses."

They called on the individual who made the phone call to apologise.

"Those comments were not made on behalf of the PM or [Prime Minister's Office] or with their knowledge. The PM and the government consider the actions and statements of the individual as unacceptable," the spokesperson said.

Women's Safety Minister Anne Ruston has also said the government intends to investigate the claim.



Ex-Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins also addressed the Press Club luncheon on Wednesday, calling for the government to fully adopt all 28 recommendations of the Jenkins review.

The 2021 report - conducted by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins —  was commissioned in the aftermath of concerns raised by Ms Higgins, who has alleged she was raped in Parliament House by an ex-colleague.

It called for a statement to the parliament acknowledging the “bullying, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces and a commitment to action and shared accountability”.



The report also recommended all parties push for gender parity, the creation of a new code of conduct for MPs and their staff and enforcement by an Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission.

"There are 28 recommendations in the Jenkins review and, without their implementation, we will continue to see this toxic culture exist within our most powerful institution," Ms Higgins said.

"Without these changes, women will inadvertently continue to be discouraged from taking up roles within parliament, or take a seat at the leadership table.

"If we truly want a gender-inclusive society, we need more vocal women in rooms where key decisions are being made to ensure that there is a gender lens placed over national policy."

Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins at the March 4 Justice rally in Canberra.
Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins at the March 4 Justice rally in Canberra. Source: Getty Images AsiaPac


Ms Higgins said her "patience" had run out in waiting for the government to make these changes.

"As I think you have gathered by now, my patience has run out. I want to close by saying that for all the fear and anger and sadness that my time in politics has brought me, it did not take away my belief in Australia, my faith in democracy," she said.

"I know our country can do better for women and girls."

She thanked the women who had come before her such as former Liberal staffer Rachelle Miller who has alleged Liberal MP Alan Tudge was "abusive" at times during their affair.

"It was this idea that these women were letting down the team, and this frenetic gossip that went around the building that they were talking about ... I think I am here today because of the bravery of those women coming before me - 100 per cent," Ms Higgins said.

Former Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate, former Liberal MP Julia Banks and former Sydney Lord Mayor Lucy Turnbull were among the attendees at Wednesday's event.

 

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.


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6 min read
Published 9 February 2022 at 12:57pm
By Eden Gillespie
Source: SBS News