Tensions exploded on The Project on Tuesday night as hosts Carrie Bickmore and Peter van Onselen went head to head over Grace Tame’s frosty meeting with the prime minister.
The former Australian of the Year, who is an advocate for sexual assault survivors, appeared visibly uncomfortable when filmed shaking Scott Morrison’s hand at the the 2022 Australian of the Year Finalists Morning Tea at The Lodge in Canberra on Tuesday morning.
While numerous people expressed their delight over Tame’s stern expression, others, including journalist van Onselen, labelled her “childish” and said she should have shown “a bit of respect”.
Bickmore was quick to give her co-host a dressing down over his comments when the subject was addressed on The Project during an interview with political reporter Amy Remeikis, who is also a survivor of sexual assault.
The heated debate began after Ms Remeikis told van Onselen his remarks about Ms Tame’s behaviour in article an he wrote for The Australian were “devastating”.
“We’re constantly being told how we should act, who we should think about and who perhaps should be seen in our place,” the obviously frustrated political reporter said.
The comment prompted Bickmore to grill van Onselen further.
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“First of all, why do you feel the need to tell Grace how she should have behaved? But second of all, why should she stand there and smile and pretend it’s all okay when there is an absolute catastrophe on the cards here?” The Project host asked.
“Oh, I didn’t think she should stand there and smile and pretend it’s OK, I just thought she shouldn’t go. If you can’t be polite in some form, then I just think don’t go,” he replied.
“But why should she have to be silenced and quiet? Why can’t she go and make a statement in her behaviour about how she feels over what has happened in the past year?” Bickmore retorted.
“I don’t think she’s being silenced by not going, I think it would have made a big statement if she hadn’t gone and she didn’t speak at the event, so I just think if you can’t just have basic courtesy to the Prime Minister — I don’t like Scott Morrison particularly — but if you can’t show basic courtesy, I just I think it’s immature,” he responded.
Bickmore appeared unimpressed by van Onselen’s answer and told the journalist he could have used more respectful language when addressing Ms Tame.
“In the article today you spoke about how she acted as a child, you know when she should have been able to act as a child? When she was a child. Only she was preyed upon by a man and lost parts of her childhood,” Bickmore told a now sheepish van Onselen.
“Like in the whole conversation and how we talk about this, things like that I’m unsure how that helps, how that article today helps when I’m assuming, like the entire nation, you want violence against women and children to end?” she continued.
Van Onselen, who explained that he had survived an attempted sexual assault, said he understood why Ms Tame “can’t be polite to the prime minister”, but insisted the advocate shouldn’t have gone to the event because it was “immature”.
'Why should she stand there and smile?'
Ms Remeikis then chimed in, saying that Ms Tame’s refusal to attend the 2022 Australian of the Year Finalists Morning Tea would have “created a huge ruckus”.
“Why should she stand there and smile? And why do we have to be polite?” she said as van Onselen repeatedly interrupted her, doubling down on his remarks.
When asked why he wrote the opinion piece and not an article about what Ms Tame has achieved in the past year, The Project host said he has the “same view as Rosie Batty”, an Australian campaigner against domestic violence.
“I can see the good as well as the bad in the way that she’s functioned, but in overall terms I think it has been a very good thing that she has been the Australian of the Year,” he said.
Ms Remeikis told van Onselen he’s attempting to police a woman who was groomed as a child and “told how to behave”.
“She has since come out and made her entire adulthood about not behaving in the way other people think that she should, she’s going to be true to herself,” she said.
“She has every right to be there, she has every right to show her feelings and if she doesn’t want to be part of a politically staged photo op, she doesn’t have to smile to make other people feel better and not hurt their feelings — it’s absolutely ridiculous and you should know better Peter,” she said.
The heated segment ended with van Onselen holding up Ms Remeikis’ new book, telling the audience “he’s actually read it”.
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