Scott Morrison responds to Grace Tame's 'threatening' phone call claim

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The prime minister's office denies sanctioning a call to Grace Tame demanding she avoid criticising Scott Morrison at the 2022 Australian of the Year Awards, and is investigating the claims.

The 2021 Australian of the Year on Wednesday spoke about receiving a call from "a senior member of a government-funded organisation" on August 17 about the 2022 awards scheduled for January.

Ms Tame told the National Press Club on Wednesday the person asked "for my word that I wouldn't say anything damning about the prime minister on the evening of the next Australian of the Year Awards".

2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame addresses the National Press Club in Canberra.
Grace Tame addresses the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday. Source: AAP

"You're an influential person. He'll have a fear ... with an election coming soon'," she recounted the person saying.

Ms Tame asked what he'd be fearful of and was told "you know, with an election coming soon".

Women's Safety Minister Anne Ruston labelled it "a completely unacceptable" thing for a publicly funded organisation to do, and confirmed the government was investigating.

The prime minister's office said Mr Morrison "has not and would not authorise such actions and at all times has sought to treat Ms Tame with dignity and respect".

It called on the individual, who Ms Tame declined to name, to apologise.

"Those comments were not made on behalf of the PM or PMO or with their knowledge," the statement said.

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

Grace Tame fires back on Twitter

Following the release of the statement, Ms Tame quickly fired back, saying the prime minister had "missed the point".

"Scott conducting an investigation into who made the phone call is THE VERY SAME embedded structural silencing culture that drove the call in the first place and misses the point entirely," she wrote.

"Stop deflecting, Scott. It’s not about the person who made the call. It’s the fact they felt like they had to do it."

In her speech, Ms Tame drew comparisons between the call and the child sexual abuse she endured at the hands of a teacher.

"I remember standing in the shadow of a trusted authority figure being threatened in just the same veiled way," 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."

Ms Tame, addressing the National Press Club alongside former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, dismissed Mr Morrison's apology delivered a day earlier for assault and harassment on Capital Hill.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during House of Representatives Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra.
Scott Morrison's office has denied sanctioning a phone call. Source: AAP

An acknowledgement of harm caused was among 28 recommendations from Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. Her review found one third of Commonwealth parliamentary workers surveyed had been sexually harassed.

Other recommendations from the commissioner were introduced in the Senate on Wednesday.

Ms Higgins, whose allegation about being raped in the office of then-defence industry minister Linda Reynolds in 2019 triggered various reviews, indicated she didn't think much of the government's assurances.

"I don't care if the government has improved the way that they talk about these issues. I'm not interested in words any more. I want to see action," she said.

Ms Higgins called out Mr Morrison's propensity for "shocking" and "offensive" language about issues of women and their safety.

"What bothered me most about the whole 'imagine if it were our daughters' spiel wasn't that he necessarily needed his wife's advice to help contextualise my rape in a way that mattered to him personally," she said.

"I didn't want his sympathy as a father; I wanted him to use his power as prime minister."

Ms Higgins was among women invited to Tuesday's apology in the House of Representatives at the last minute after the government was lashed for leaving her out.

"It was deeply emotional in a way that I wasn't anticipating," she said of the apology.

"I'm so grateful that I had the opportunity to be there because it made it so much more tangible."

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