Comment: What has Scott Morrison done to deserve a smile?

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Hours after sparking a national debate by displaying her visceral disdain for the prime minister, 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame made a much quieter political statement.

During Australian of the Year celebrations on Tuesday, hours after she threw eye daggers at Scott Morrison, she posed alongside his political opponent.

The difference was night and day.

A beaming Ms Tame smiled next to Labor leader Anthony Albanese while affectionately pointing to him.

A decidedly different Grace Tame alongside Anthony Albanese. Source: Twitter/Anthony Albanese
A decidedly different Grace Tame alongside Anthony Albanese. Source: Twitter/Anthony Albanese

The photo drew considerably less scrutiny online. It has received more than 24,000 'likes' since Mr Albanese posted it on Twitter, with some users complaining that it illustrated how the national award, and the platform it provides, has been politicised.

But given the PM's record on the difficult issue Ms Tame has made her life's work, is it really any surprise he was met with such a chilly reception?

Ms Tame was groomed and repeatedly sexually abused by a school teacher as a child. She has since advocated for change to protect children and those who are victims of sexual abuse.

In contrast, the issue has repeatedly dogged Mr Morrison's prime ministership in recent years.

Grace Tame has not been shy about her feelings towards Scott Morrison. Source: AAP
Grace Tame has not been shy about her feelings towards Scott Morrison. Source: AAP

When the alleged rape of Liberal staffer Brittney Higgins occurred inside Parliament House, Mr Morrison denied ever knowing about it despite other senior cabinet ministers admitting knowledge of the incident.

The PM's office then reportedly backgrounded against the alleged victim and her partner to undermine their credibility. Mr Morrison got his personal aide to launch an investigation, which he later mislead parliament about, before it quietly ended without making a finding.

When the Women's March 4 Justice was held outside Parliament House, the PM refused to walk out to greet the women, later suggesting on the floor of parliament they were lucky they didn't live in a country where they would be shot at.

When Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins handed down a review into Australia's workplace culture last year, the government eschewed many of its recommendations, including a central one to impose a duty on Australian employers to stamp out workplace sexual harassment.

Ms Tame described that decision as a "failure" on the eve of the government's Women's Safety Summit in September.

There has been "clear pattern of denial, minimisation, ultimately dismissal of women’s issues" by the Morrison government, she said.

"Really, this summit is an extension of that. It’s been so poorly organised, it’s incredibly secretive, it’s also very exclusionary."

During his opening remarks at the summit, Mr Morrison touted $1.1 billion in a Women’s Safety Package in last year's budget.

But for critics – including former federal Liberal MP Julia Banks who described Mr Morrison as a "menacing controlling wallpaper" during her time with the government – the platitudes and splashing of taxpayer money hasn't changed the tenor of the government's approach to the issue.

When Grace Tame was first being groomed by her maths teacher, her parents had a meeting with the principal about the inappropriate relationship.

"I was told I had done something wrong," she recalled in an address to the National Press Club in March which drew a standing ovation.

Ironically, there was no shortage of people telling her she had done something wrong by not smiling for the PM yesterday.

But to demand she feign a smile is to prioritise deference over the very activism that won her the honour in the first place.

Maybe it wasn't graceful, but it was justified.

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