Australian of the Year and advocate for survivors of sexual assault, Grace Tame, says multiple allegations of rape in federal politics are “not surprising” – and has rebuked Scott Morrison for his response to the reports.
“It’s not surprising to me at all,” she said at the National Press Club on Wednesday.
“Cover-up culture, the abuse of power, is not unique to Parliament.”
In January, Grace Tame stood beside the PM when she received her Australian of the Year Award. Today, she responds to the language used and the way Scott Morrison reacted to rape allegations in Parliament House. @10NewsFirst pic.twitter.com/LlJVVBqukK
— Stela Todorovic (@Stela_Todorovic) March 3, 2021
Ms Tame was named Australian of the Year, for her advocacy on behalf of sexual assault survivors, just five weeks ago.
On Wednesday, a cabinet minister is expected to reveal himself as the person accused of a rape in Sydney in 1988 – claims Mr Morrison said the minister “absolutely rejects”.
Ms Tame gave a major speech at Canberra’s National Press Club on Wednesday, speaking about her experiences, advocacy work, and plans to further support survivors.
“To my fellow survivors, it is our time. We need to take this opportunity. We need to be bold and courageous. Recognise that we have a platform on which I stand with you in solidarity and support,” Ms Tame said.
“One voice, your voice, and our collective voices can make a difference. We are on the precipice of a revolution whose call to action needs to be heard loud and clear.”
It comes after numerous allegations of rape inside the Liberal Party, kickstarted in recent weeks by the claims of former government staffer Brittany Higgins.
Ms Higgins says she was raped on a couch in the Parliament House office of her then-boss, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, by a former male colleague.
Two more women connected to the Liberal Party alleged the same man also raped them, with at least one more claiming to have been harassed by him.
Mr Morrison came under fire on the day after Ms Higgins’ allegations were published by News Corp, saying that he had fully understood the gravity of the situation after speaking to his wife Jenny.
“She said to me, ‘You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?’,” Mr Morrison said.
“Jenny has a way of clarifying things. Always has. And so as I’ve reflected on that overnight and listened to Brittany and what she had to say.”
Taking questions afterwards, Ms Tame was asked about Mr Morrison’s comments regarding his wife and daughters.
She gave a blunt response.
“It shouldn’t take having children to have a conscience,” she said abruptly, letting her words hang in the air.
She then added “on top of that, having children doesn’t guarantee a conscience”.
She was asked a follow-up question, regarding comments by Mr Morrison in 2019 about believing survivors’ accounts of sexual assault, and whether “those words ring true now”.
Ms Tame responded “clearly not”.
Earlier, she had been asked about the reports of rape in federal politics. She said she was not surprised, and that it was a broader issue that extended beyond Parliament.
“It’s not necessarily these individual cases. It’s the issue itself that is going to keep inspiring me to do this work. I was doing this work before it dominated the national stage,” Ms Tame said.
“It is heightened right now, because it’s happening in the centre of our country, in Parliament. But like I said, it’s not unique to Parliament. It happens everywhere.”
Asked specifically about her response to the reports connected to politics, Ms Tame answered “I would say not surprised. It’s a culture”.
Australian of the Year, Grace Tame says "cover up culture and the abuse of power is not unique to Parliament." She says she was doing this work before it dominated the national stage. @SBSNews #auspol pic.twitter.com/nimZzySX1x
— Shuba (@ShubaSKrishnan) March 3, 2021
Ms Tame later said she had been “very supported” by the federal government in her work since being named Australian of the Year.
Asked about her conversations with government about responses to allegations of misconduct and assault, she admitted with a laugh that “we’re still figuring those things out”.
“It’s about solidarity … there’s nothing more empowering than empowering others,” Ms Tame said.
“The more we come out and speak about this, the more the conversation will be normalised, and the more the power will be taken away from predators and returned to where it belongs.
“I want to see more resources put into prevention of [assault] from happening in the first place. So that we don’t have to be scrambling when these things happen. Because they wouldn’t be happening.”
When asked about how people should speak about sexual assault, Ms Tame responded “there’s a lot of things in this world that are ugly and dark”.
“We have to remember that we’re all human beings. And that ugliness and darkness is unfortunately important because it helps inform how we move into the light,” she said.