The Morrison government says the only way it can get to the bottom of Grace Tame’s ‘threatening’ phone call is if she names the caller.
The federal government says its best chance of thoroughly investigating bombshell claims by former Australian of the Year Grace Tame that she was asked not to criticise the Prime Minister due to the proximity of the election is for her to reveal who was on the other side of the phone.
During her joint National Press Club address with former Liberal staffer and friend Brittany Higgins on Wednesday, Ms Tame described a “threatening” phone call she received in August by a “senior member of a government-funded organisation”.
“On August 17 last year, not five months after being named Australian of the Year, I received a threatening phone call from a senior member of a government-funded organisation asking for my word that I would not say anything damnit about the Prime Minister on the evening of the next Australian of the Year Awards,” she said on Wednesday.
“‘You are an influential person. He will have a fear,’ they said. What kind of fear, I asked myself. A fear of our nation’s most vulnerable? A fear for the future of our planet? And then I hear the words, ‘You know, with an election coming soon’.”
Women’s Safety Minister Anne Ruston, who was one of three female Liberal frontbenchers at the address, said on Thursday that she was keen to investigate the matter.
“(But) it is up to Ms Tame whether she would like the matter taken further, and I absolutely respect (if she does not),” Senator Ruston told ABC Radio.
“If she does, of course we will be happy to make sure we get to the bottom of the issue.”
Senator Ruston said the first time the government had been made aware of the phone call was during Wednesday’s address.
“I’m more than happy today to say to Ms Tame if she would like me or anybody else … to have a look at what happened last year,” Senator Ruston said.
“We’d be keen to get to the bottom of what happened, but Ms Tame is in control of what we do with this piece of information from here.”
Ms Tame on Wednesday declined to name the individual or the organisation involved.
In the immediate wake of Ms Tame’s allegation, the Prime Minister’s office issued a statement, saying it had no knowledge of the phone call before Wednesday and would launch an investigation.
“While Ms Tame has declined to name the individual, the individual should apologise. The PM and government consider the actions and statements of the individual as unacceptable,” a spokesperson for Mr Morrison said.
Ms Tame said Mr Morrison’s announcement of an investigation 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 on Twitter on Wednesday.
“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.”
Senator Ruston, who confirmed she had not reached out to Ms Tame, said she didn’t agree with Ms Tame’s characterisation that the government was trying to muzzle its critics.
“What we are genuinely trying to do … this accusation is particularly serious. We are more than happy to work with Ms Tame in an appropriate mechanism, one that she is happy to work with to find out actually what happened,” she said.
“It is serious, it shouldn’t have happened. We would like to get to the bottom of it, but without further information about who it’s from, it’s difficult to pursue anything.”