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Channel Ten’s political guru Peter van Onselen now wishes he’d kept out of the row over former Australian of the Year Grace Tame’s frosty face-to-face with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Prof van Onselen branded the 27-year-old newly-engaged Tasmanian ‘immature’ for the dramatic showdown at The Lodge in Canberra last week.
He wrote a scathing editorial on the awkward encounter, calling the sexual abuse survivor ‘ungracious, rude and childish’, and suggested she should have stayed at home.
The opinion piece for The Australian sparked a furious backlash, with Ten’s The Project host Carrie Bickmore unloading on her own channel’s political editor.
‘You spoke about how she acted as a child,’ said Ms Bickmore. ‘You know when she should have been able to act as a child? When she was a child.
Ten’s political guru Peter van Onselen (pictured) now wishes he’d kept out of the row over former Australian of the Year Grace Tame’s frosty face-to-face with Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Grace Tame had avoided eye contact with PM Scott Morrison (pictured) and refused to smile for a photograph at the Australian of the Year morning tea for this year’s finalists last Tuesday
‘But she was preyed upon by a man and lost part of herself in that.’
Now Prof van Onselen has admitted he should probably have kept his opinions to himself.
But he stressed that he did not regret his comments and was not worried about the backlash.
‘Some things just don’t need to be said,’ he said. ‘Just like Grace Tame didn’t need to act the way she did, I didn’t need to call her out on it.’
In a podcast, Critical Line Item with Tom Ravlic, he said he hasn’t changed his mind about the way he feels, just that he now believes he didn’t need to voice them.
‘I think it was probably unnecessary for me to bother to write the opinion piece,’ he told the podcast. ‘To say all of those things. I can just think it.’
Ms Tame had avoided eye contact with the PM and refused to smile for a photograph at the Australian of the Year morning tea for this year’s finalists last Tuesday.
Ms Bickmore and Guardian journalist Amy Remeikis, who was as a guest on The Project on the night of the encounter, questioned why Tame needed to act a certain way.
‘Your column today, devastating to so many people,’ Remeikis said.
‘We’re constantly being told how we should act, who we should think about and who perhaps should be seen in our place.’
But the professor has refused to back down on his views – but now accepts there was no need to air them the way he did.
‘They didn’t change my mind,’ he told the podcast. ‘I’m still very firm, personally, of the view that [Tame’s actions were] uncalled for, if I could put it that way. And inappropriate, and she shouldn’t have done it.
‘That’s different to saying that on reflection I wouldn’t have written the opinion piece because I didn’t like the blowback that I got.
‘I don’t care about that. That’s not a reason I wouldn’t write it on reflection. Seeing how strongly people feel about it doesn’t change my view.
‘But it probably has changed my view on whether it needed to be written.’
Project host Carrie Bickmore questioned why van Onselen (left) wrote an opinion piece on Tame, suggesting if she was going to act ‘immature’ she should have stayed home
In the bruising no-holds barred TV row, Prof van Onselen said: ‘I didn’t think she should smile and pretend it’s OK.
‘I just thought she shouldn’t go, if you can’t be polite in some form, I think just don’t go.’
He said he applauded everything Tame had done for survivors of sexual assault.
But when The Project panellist then asked why should Tame be silenced and not able to attend the morning tea to which van Onselen said ‘if you can’t show basic courtesy I think it’s immature’.
‘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. But she was preyed upon by a man and lost part of herself in that,’ Ms Bickmore fired back.
‘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?’
The commentator responded saying he had been the victim of an attempted sexual assault and understood the importance of the conversation around sexual abuse.
‘But I just think if you can’t be polite to the Prime Minister of the country, I get it, I said in the article, I get it, if she can’t be polite to him but then just don’t go,’ van Onselen said.
Grace Tame (pictured second from right with fiance Max Heerey) looked underwhelmed as she stood alongside the PM and his wife Jenny (pictured left)
Ms Remeikis chimed in asking why should Tame and other sexual abuse survivors have to ‘be polite’.
‘I don’t think she should. 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,’ the panellist responded.
‘But you wrote an entire column saying she was being childish because she showed her authentic feelings,’ Ms Remeikis hit back.
‘I thought she was being childish, I don’t have a problem with her having a problem with Scott Morrison,’ Prof van Onselen said.
He was then asked repeatedly why he wrote the article to which he said ‘I think it’s juvenile to respond that way’.
Grace Tame is seen at Tuesday’s morning tea following her tense encounter with the PM
In the aftermath of the tense interview, Twitter erupted with many rushing to the support of Ms Bickmore and Ms Remeikis.
‘Hello NSW Police? I’d like to report a murder live on TV. PVO absolutely destroyed on The Project by Amy Remeikis. Long may it continue,’ one tweeted.
‘This is the best thing that has ever been on The Project. Thank you Amy Remeikis for being so eloquent and fierce. Thank you Carrie Bickmore for your honest and strong comments,’ said another.
‘Unbelievably powerful. Thank you. Van Onselen. Be better. Waiting to speak is not a conversation,’ wrote one.
Others said that everyone should be entitled to their own opinions.
‘I cannot believe the man bashing that goes on in this show. Women do not help their cause by trying to belittle men. It was an interesting exchange of words from rival columnists though,’ one woman tweeted.
In the aftermath of the tense interview, Twitter erupted with many rushing to the support of Carrue Bickmore (pictured) and Ms Remeikis
Ms Tame later joked about her frosty encounter with the PM, reposting a meme from the satirical Instagram page Betoota Advocate which captioned the reunion ‘Woman faces backlash for not pretending everything is OK’.
Ms Tame was awarded Australian of the Year for leading a campaign for a legal change that allowed sex abuse survivors to speak out.
She had been groomed and molested as a schoolgirl by one of her teachers.
Ms Tame has been open about her opinion on the Morrison government and Tuesday’s morning tea wasn’t the first awkward encounter she’s shared with the PM.
Having given a speech at last year’s Australian of the Year ceremony, she was surprised by the Mr Morrison’s reaction and went public with it.
Ms Tame later joked about her frosty encounter with the PM, reposting a meme from the satirical Instagram page Betoota Advocate which captioned the reunion ‘Woman faces backlash for not pretending everything is OK’
‘Do you know what he said to me, right after I finished that speech and we’re in front of a wall of media?’ the Tasmanian later told a podcast.
‘I s**t you not, he leaned over and right in my ear he goes, ”Well, gee, I bet it felt good to get that out”.’
Soon afterward, Ms Tame took up the cause of Brittany Higgins, a former Liberal Party staffer who said she was sexually assaulted inside Parliament House and accused the Morrison government of covering it up.
When Mr Morrison later apologised to Ms Higgins for her experiences, citing advice from his wife and consideration of his own children, Tame hit out at him and said ‘it shouldn’t take having children to have a conscience’.
Grace Tame and fiancé Max Heerey are seen at this year’s Australian of the Year ceremony
In tweets, she accused Mr Morrison of using a speech to the Women’s Safety Summit to ‘leverage his own image’, and said of his appearance in a cricket commentary box that he used ‘well practiced dribble’ to win favourable media coverage.
She had launched her attacks on the PM before she was even in the AOTY role, taking a swipe at the government’s record on climate change hours before she was given the prestigious honour.
Before the 2021 ceremony, her then-boyfriend Max Heerey posted a video on his Instagram showing Tame walking up behind Prime Minister Morrison, with the caption: ‘Creeping up like climate change’.
The Instagram story – which Ms Tame also later shared to her own page – included an emoji of a Santa sack full of coal, and the word ‘aloha’ – in reference to Mr Morrison’s controversial trip to Hawaii last year at a time when bushfires raged across Australia.