Jenny Morrison says she was a little bit disappointed with the behaviour of the former Australian of the Year Grace Tame during a function at the Lodge in January, and hopes her own daughters will be “fierce” but also show “manners and respect”.
The prime minister’s spouse told the Nine Network on Sunday night the focus during the reception on 25 January should have been “on all the incredible people coming in” so Tame’s unwillingness to smile at her hosts or for the cameras was “a little bit disappointing, because we’ll welcome you in our home”.
The prime minister has repeatedly declined to criticise Tame in the controversy that followed the reception on the eve of Australia Day. Tame, a survivor advocate, won last year’s Australian of the Year prize after her advocacy was instrumental in overturning a Tasmanian law preventing survivors from speaking publicly about their assault.
During the function for the 2022 Australian of the Year finalists in Canberra, Tame – who had roundly criticised Morrison’s suboptimal response to federal parliament’s #MeToo reckoning during the previous 12 months – declined to engage in conventional niceties.
Last week, during an appearance at the National Press Club, Tame said last August she had received a “threatening” phone call from a senior member of a government-funded organisation warning her not to criticise the prime minister on the eve of last month’s Australian of the Year awards because there was “an election coming soon”.
In response to the allegation, the prime minister said he had not and would not authorise any such actions. The National Australia Day Council has denied having threatening conversations with Tame.
The Morrison family participated in an extended interview with the Nine Network’s 60 Minutes program on Sunday night. Jenny Morrison is rarely interviewed, but she was a significant focus of the program, characterised as the prime minister’s “secret weapon” in the looming federal election campaign.
Jenny Morrison addressed several controversies that have eroded her husband’s standing with voters during the program – including the family’s now infamous holiday in Hawaii during the catastrophic summer bushfires in 2019-20.
Morrison has said previously he followed through with the holiday because he had made a promise to his wife and daughters. Jenny Morrison said she was “more than sorry if we disappointed” in the decision to leave the country during the bushfire emergency.
“I thought I was making the right decision for my kids. I obviously was wrong.” She said she wish the holiday had never happened “but I can’t change it”.
While apologising for the misjudgment, she also editorialised about the subsequent public backlash.
She made the point that expectations of contemporary prime ministers were different than the expectations that surrounded earlier prime minister, like Bob Hawke. “I think then it was OK to have a holiday and things like that and, and it doesn’t seem that way now.
“Like, people want you to be seen to be doing something, um, all the time.”
When the former Liberal party staffer, Brittany Higgins, alleged last year she’d been sexually assaulted in Parliament House, Morrison at one point told journalists it had taken a conversation with his wife to prompt him to display more empathy.
Morrison was widely criticised for his perceived mishandling of the aftermath of Higgins’ allegation which triggered a broader #MeToo reckoning in the Australian parliament and led to public rallies.
Morrison’s standing with female voters took a significant hit during the furore. The prime minister attempted to recover from the damage by introducing more workplace support for political staff and by reshuffling his cabinet to amplify a female “perspective” within the government.
Asked by the interviewer Karl Stefanovic on Sunday night whether it had taken a conversation with her for the prime minister to really comprehend the seriousness of Higgins’ allegation, Jenny Morrison leapt to her husband’s defence. “I think Scott totally gets things,” she said.
“I think he’s all about problem solving. And so, that can come across sometimes as serious, uncaring or lacking empathy. But it isn’t that at all.”
She said her husband was very task oriented, and as a result of his focus, the environment in Parliament House was changing. “I feel happy that that will happen.
“That my girls in like 10 years’ time – heaven forbid if they want to go into politics – can walk safely around and know what’s going on.”
Jenny Morrison said her husband should be permitted to reflect publicly on some of their private conversations. “I think he should be able to say what happens with us in our life.
“Yes, he talks to me regularly. Do I make policy decisions? Absolutely not. Would you want me to? Because they’d be bad. But I can tell him how I feel about something.”
The prime minister’s wife said the ruthlessness of professional politics repelled her, but she said she wanted her husband to win the coming election contest. A Newspoll published on Sunday evening has Labor 10 points ahead of the Coalition on that survey’s two-party-preferred measure.
Parliament resumes on Monday.