By Caitlin Holloway


Smiling at Scomo – Grace Tame’s message to the Government

“Let us re-direct the discomfort to where it belongs.”

Those are some of the words Grace Tame used in her acceptance speech when she won Australian of the Year in 2021. Grace was, of course, referring to the discomfort surrounding discussions of child abuse and the laws preventing survivors from sharing their stories.

I think those same words should equally apply to much of the commentary surrounding Grace’s exchange with Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the 2022 Australian of the Year finalist’s morning tea last week.

Photographs of an obviously “frosty” Grace Tame went viral following the morning tea, resulting in a divisive media frenzy, with some journalists describing Grace Tame as a “spoiled brat”[1] and others describing her as “ungracious, rude and childish” for “refusing to smile for the cameras”[2].

For me, I thought the choice of Grace Tame as Australian of the year was progressive and refreshing, particularly from a side of politics that has traditionally been conservative and has faced criticism over its handling of gender specific issues.

When I saw those images of Grace, I thought she was bold and her message to the Federal Government ahead of the election was powerful. Grace’s ability to capture an audience and start discussions about difficult topics is one of the many reasons she made a great Australian of the year. So why should she change the way she acts in order to be seen as polite, or in order to make Scott Morrison feel more comfortable around her? Isn’t she just doing exactly what made her Australian of the year in the first place?

As a young woman in a male-dominated industry, I often feel as though different standards apply to my female colleagues and I, that do not apply to our male colleagues.

I recall Erin and I once being described by a male practitioner as “histrionic”, simply for advocating fiercely for our client in a way that, at least for that practitioner, was somehow “unbecoming” of women in our profession. Advocating fiercely is an attribute that is celebrated among my male colleagues but often discouraged for women.

Sadly, that is just one example of the many stories my colleagues could share about their experiences as women in this industry. Our experiences in that regard are partly why I felt so disheartened and frustrated by some of the commentary surrounding Grace Tame last week.

In 2020, when images and videos of a man refusing to shake the Prime Minister’s hand in the wake of devastating bushfires circulated online, the message was clear – Australians felt disappointed with the Prime Minister. The commentary around that man was supportive and his disdain for social etiquette toward the Prime Minister was widely celebrated by the media. I certainly do not recall seeing any articles describing him as rude, childish or bratty.

The reason for that, in my view, is clear – the commentary around Grace is gendered. There is an expectation that she smiles and waves to the cameras, and pretend that she is happy with the way her government has dealt with the very issues that are platformed by her.

No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, Grace made a frank and bold statement to the Australian Government and that fact should be celebrated in the same way that we celebrate the passion and bravery of others who do the same thing. Respect for authority is one thing, but when that authority treats portions of the society it is there to protect with such wilful disregard then I say, “damn the man”.

If you felt discomfort about Grace Tame’s interaction with the Prime Minister, I urge you to consider why that is, and whether your discomfort is appropriately targeted at the young woman at the heart of that interaction, or whether your discomfort should be re-directed toward the system that made her feel so let down.


[2] Peter Van Onselen, the Project.