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The Project: Carrie Bickmore, Peter van Onselen in gripping debate over Grace Tame

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A fiery exchange sparked by a photo of Australian of the Year Grace Tame meeting the PM sent the Project into a spin on Tuesday night.

Carrie Bickmore has defended Grace Tame after the sexual assault survivor came under fire for an icy meeting with the Prime Minister.

Ms Tame sparked national media coverage after cameras captured her frosty exchange with Scott Morrison ahead of a morning tea for the 2022 Australian of the Year finalists.

Some conservative MPs labelled the interaction “childish”, while journalist Peter van Onselen described her as “ungracious and rude” in a piece for The Australian.

Political reporter Amy Remeikis ripped into van Onselen for his column on Tuesday’s edition of The Project, describing his opinion as “devastating” and sparking a heated debate amongst the panel.

“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?” Carrie Bickmore asked van Onselen.

“I don’t think she should stand there and smile and pretend it’s all OK, I just thought she shouldn’t go. If you can’t be polite in some form, then 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?” shot back Bickmore.

“I don’t think she was silenced, I think it would have made a big difference if she hadn’t gone, if you can’t have basic courtesy to the Prime Minister – I don’t like Scott Morrison particularly – but if you can’t show basic courtesy, I think it’s immature,’ he answered.

Bickmore suggested van Onselen could have used more respectful language towards Ms Tame.

“In the article today you spoke about how she’d acted as a child, you know when she should have been able to act as a child? When she was a child. But she was preyed upon by a man and lost part of herself in that. I‘m unsure how that article today helps when I’m assuming, like the entire nation, you want violence against women and children to end?”

Ms Remekis continued the debate, asking Onselen why he thought she was required to smile on camera while meeting the PM.

“I don’t think she should stand there and smile, I just think she shouldn’t go if you can’t show basic courtesies to the Prime Minister,” he replied.

When pressed again on why he wrote the article, Onselen said it was because “I can see the good as well as the bad in the way that she has behaved”.

“I‘ve written a lot about these issues and I think she has achieved a lot. I don’t agree with everything that she has done,” he continued.

“I’ve got the same view as Rosie Batty, that I can see the good as well as the bad in the way that she has functioned, but in overall terms I think it has been a very good thing that she has been the Australian of the Year.”

The Project host Lisa Wilkinson, who took a night off for Tuesday’s show, retweeted a post from Ms Remeikis earlier in the day. Ms Remeikis said it was “very telling” who was levelling criticism at Ms Tame for “reacting with her authentic feelings”.

Photo sparks media storm

Extraordinary photos and footage captured the tense moment Ms Tame met with the Prime Minister before a morning tea for this year’s Australian of the Year finalists.

The 27-year-old was seen looking unimpressed as Mr Morrison and his wife Jenny stood for photos with other people as she waited to enter the event

“Hello Grace,” the Prime Minister was then heard saying.

“G’day,” she responded.

“How are you going? Congratulations on the engagement,” Mr Morrison continue

Ms Tame was seen looking unimpressed as Mr Morrison and his wife Jenny stood for photos with other people as she waited to enter the event

“Thank you,” Ms Tame said, not making eye contact with the Prime Minister.

She then smiled at Jenny who said something that couldn’t be heard.

Ms Tame then appeared visibly unimpressed while standing for photos next to the Prime Minister.

She didn’t say anything once the photos were taken before walking off.

Ms Tame had earlier tweeted an image about her two days in Canberra: “On second thoughts let’s not go to Canberra. It’s a silly place,” it said.

Politicians react to Ms Tame’s tense interaction

Queensland Liberal Senator James McGrath criticised Ms Tame for her “childish” behaviour, suggesting she should hand back her award.

In an extraordinary attack after images emerged of the tense meeting, Senator McGrath said he was sick of her “partisan” attacks.

After months of public criticism of the Prime Minister by Ms Tame, Senator McGrath said if she didn’t like the job she should “hand back the honour.”

“The important issues raised by last year’s Australian of the Year must continue to be addressed by all of us,’’ he said.

“It is a pity her behaviour and attacks on our Prime Minister are so partisan, political and childish. If she didn’t like being Australian of the Year she should hand back the honour.”

Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes joined the attacks tweeting “Immature!” in relation to the awkward photographs.

But just hours after her icy moment with the Prime Minister, Labor leader Anthony Albanese praised her huge role in sparking a national conversation.

“On her final day as Australian of the Year, I’d like to take a moment to thank Grace Tame for her extraordinary courage and fierce advocacy,’’ he said.

“You’ve inspired countless Australians and you’ve earned enormous respect.”

Peter van Onselen’s column about Tame

Channel 10’s The Project host Peter Van Onselen slammed the footage of Ms Tame meeting the Prime Minister at his residence as “embarrassing, for her that is”.

“She was ungracious, rude and childish, refusing to smile for the cameras, barely acknowledging his existence when standing next to him. The footage tells the story free of overstatement,’’ he wrote in The Australian.

“She didn’t have to play the role of court jester, or be a fake. Just be a decent human being, that’s all. If that wasn’t possible, why bother to attend at all? At his Canberra house no less. It isn’t like the person who lives there wasn’t going to be there.

“If your disdain for the man is so great (understandable perhaps) that you can’t even muster basic and common courtesy, then just don’t go. That would be reasonable. Plenty of people would understand. It would cause a stir, but justifiably so given her criticisms of the PM. But acting like a child displaying a lack of basic manners when coming face-to-face with him in a meet and greet was unbecoming and unnecessary.

“But to look as forlorn as she did in response, rudely and deliberately looking away from the photographer, was an act of juvenile dissent. That of itself sends a powerful message without being childishly rude and demeaning yourself.”

Government sources confirmed that the Prime Minister had invited Ms Tame to his family home because it was tradition and never contemplated changing that tradition as a result of the fractured relationship between the pair.

Grace Tame’s powerful story

Ms Tame was named the 2021 Australian of the Year after overturning a Tasmanian law that prevented her from speaking about her experiences of sexual assault when she was just 15.

“I lost my virginity to a paedophile. I was 15, anorexic; he was 58, he was my teacher,” she said in her powerful acceptance speech.

“For months he groomed me and then abused me almost every day. Before school, after school, in my uniform, on the floor.

“I didn’t know who I was.

“Australia, we’ve come a long way but there’s still more work to do in a lot of areas.”

Ms Tame later told the Betoota Advocate podcast that she was perplexed by Mr Morrison’s words to her after the speech.

“Do you know what he said to me, right after I finished that speech and we’re in front of a wall of media?” Ms Tame said. “I sh*t you not, he leant over and right in my ear he goes, ‘Well, gee, I bet it felt good to get that out’.”

Mr Morrison later defended his words when coming under fire for them during Question Time.

“That is roughly my recollection,” he told parliament.

“That was a very brave statement, that is exactly what I meant when I said that to her on that occasion.”



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