Former Australian of the Year Grace Tame has claimed she received a “threatening phone call” urging her to avoid criticising the Prime Minister.
Ms Tame, a child sexual abuse survivor, made the allegations in an incendiary speech to the National Press Club in Canberra.
She appeared alongside former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins just a day after Scott Morrison led a formal apology to women who were assaulted and abused in federal parliament.
During her speech, Ms Tame detailed a phone call she alleged she received last August.
“On the 17th of August last year, not five months after being named Australian of the Year, I received a threatening fine call from a senior member of a government-funded organisation, asking for my word that I would not say anything damning about the Prime Minister on the evening of the next Australian of the Year Awards,” she said.
” ‘You are an influential person. He will have a fear,’ they said. What kind of fear, I asked myself. A fear for our nation’s most vulnerable? A fear for the future of our plan? And then I heard the words, ‘with an election
coming soon …’
“It crystallised – a fear, a fear for himself and no one else, … a fear he might lose his position or, more to the point, his power. Sound familiar
to anyone? Well, it does to me. I remember standing in the shadow of a trusted authority figure, being threatened in just the same veiled way.
“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.”
Earlier, Ms Tame had blasted Mr Morrison’s apology in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
It was the first of 28 recommendations called for by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. It was triggered after Ms Higgins went public about her alleged 2019 rape in the office of then-defence industries minister Linda Reynolds.
But Ms Tame slammed it as lacking action.
“How about some proactive, preventative measures and not just these performative, last-minute Band-Aid electioneering stunts,” she tweeted.
On Wednesday, she dismissed the Coalition’s approach to the issue of women’s safety as “empty announcements”, “placatory platitudes” and “superficial last-minute acknowledgements”.
“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 said.
She reiterated her call for nationally consistent sexual assault laws, ages of consent and definitions of sexual intercourse following a meeting with the country’s attorneys-general.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham attended the address alongside Minister for Women Marise Payne, Women’s Safety Minister Anne Ruston and Women’s Economic Security Minister Jane Hume.
Ms Jenkins and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese were also present, as were Liberal backbencher Bridget Archer and former Australia Post boss Christine Holgate.
Senator Ruston said later the government was investigating Ms Tame’s allegations of the threatening phone call.
“I was unaware of the accusation until I heard that at the press club and my understanding is that nobody else in government was aware until that time,” she said.
“It is unacceptable for any agency that is funded by government to be seeking to do that to anybody, and so that investigation, to my understanding, has commenced.”
Earlier, Senator Payne described Tuesday’s apology as a critical step forward.
“Most certainly, the government is committed to implementing all 28 recommendations,” she told ABC radio.
“For [the apology] to be called a stunt is, of course, a matter for Ms Tame, but that is not my view.”
The Jenkins review found one-third of staff surveyed across Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces had been sexually harassed.