The National Australia Day Council says an internal investigation has found none of its staff made a “threatening” phone call to former Australian of the Year Grace Tame, following bombshell claims.
A spokesperson for the council told The New Daily in a statement that it had spoken to “a number of personnel” who had contact with Ms Tame over the past year, but none of those conversations were considered “threatening”.
They said they had reached out to Ms Tame and her management to seek further information about her accusation.
She said it came from a senior member of a government-funded organisation on August 17.
“(They were) asking 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,” she said.
“‘You’re an influential person. He will 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, ‘you know, with an election coming soon’.”
When pressed on which organisation or individual called her, Tame told the Press Club audience: “I reckon if I was willing to name either I would have put them in the speech.”
The National Australia Day Council (NADC) said it had “always sought to support Ms Tame throughout her tenure as Australian of the Year”.
“The Australian of the Year Award is just that – an award, not a role. Award recipients are free to use the platform the award provides any way they see fit, with the support of the NADC,” a spokesperson said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office has denied prior knowledge of the phone call, describing it as “unacceptable”.
In a statement to The New Daily, a spokesperson 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”.
“Ms Tame should always be free to speak her mind and conduct herself as she chooses. The PM has made no criticism of her statements or actions,” the spokesperson said.
“While Ms Tame has declined to name the individual, the individual should apologise.
“Those comments were not made on behalf of the PM or PMO or with their knowledge.”
Women’s Safety Minister Anne Ruston, who attended the National Press Club address, told reporters afterwards that the government had launched an investigation.
“I think we need to find out the circumstances … around what exactly has happened and transpired here,” she said.
“Obviously, the consequences need to match up with the action that’s been taken.
“It’s an unacceptable thing for any agency that’s funded by the government to be seeking to … in that way influence the behaviour like the Australian of the Year.”
But Ms Tame has criticised the government for launching the investigation, saying it “misses the point entirely”.
Sydney barrister and former counsel assisting the New South Wales ICAC Geoffrey Watson described the claim as “stunning”, but said without knowing if the caller was a public servant speaking on behalf of their employer, it was difficult to determine whether they committed an offence.
“If somebody was actually ringing and cloaking it with their office it’s obviously inappropriate,” he told The New Daily.
“It’s just too vague to make any particular judgment regarding whether or not there’s any inappropriate conduct which might give rise to civil disciplinary proceedings or the like.
“They sure could, but there’s just not enough details.”
Ms Tame was groomed and raped by her maths teacher from age 15 and became a prominent advocate for survivors of childhood sexual abuse after her perpetrator was convicted.
She told the Press Club on Wednesday that receiving the phone call from the government-funded organisation reminded her of being abused as a child.
“I remember standing in the shadow of a trusted authority figure being threatened in just the same veiled way,” she said.
“I remember him saying, ‘I’ll lose my job if anyone hears about this and you wouldn’t want that would you?’ No.
“What I wanted in that moment is the same thing I want right now and that is an end to the darkness, an end to sexual violence, safety, equity, respect, a better future for all of us, peace, a future driven by unity and truth – not one dictated authoritatively under the politics of division and spin.”
Ms Tame delivered her Press Club address alongside former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, who made public her allegation of being raped in a minister’s office almost a year ago.
During her address, Ms Higgins called out Mr Morrison’s tendency for “shocking” and “at times offensive” language about women’s safety issues.
She also criticised the action Mr Morrison took after her allegations were made public.
“What bothered me most about the whole ‘imagine if it were our daughters’ spiel wasn’t necessarily that he 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 a Prime Minister.
“I wanted him to wield the weight of his office and drive change in the party and our Parliament and out into the country.
“I’m not interested in words any more – I want to see action.”
It comes after a landmark ‘statement of acknowledgement’ was delivered on the floor of Parliament on Tuesday, following a recommendation by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins in her scathing report into workplace harassment and assault in the parliamentary workplace.
Ms Higgins thanked Mr Morrison and Opposition lLeader Anthony Albanese for apologising to victims of abuse.
“It was encouraging and an important sentiment, but I am cognisant that they are still only words,” she said.