Outspoken Australian of the Year better than one who barely makes a ripple

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The choice of Dylan Alcott, a champion wheelchair tennis player, as Australian of the Year for 2022 turns the page on a year when the holder of the title has attracted more than the usual share of controversy. The 2021 Australian of the Year, Grace Tame, was chosen for her advocacy on behalf of the survivors of child sexual abuse in Tasmania. She had campaigned for a law allowing survivors including herself to speak out about their experiences.

But she has taken up the fight on related issues including sexual violence against women, the #MeToo movement and the status of women generally. This wider role often carried her into politically sensitive territory at a time when the Liberal Party was struggling to hose down complaints about its male-dominated culture. She has made common cause with Brittany Higgins, the staffer who alleged she was raped in a ministerial office, in pushing for a change in sexist culture in Parliament.

Ms Tame’s provocative and even blunt style has attracted criticism. After Prime Minister Scott Morrison said thinking about his children had helped him to understand the horror of Ms Higgins’ allegations, Ms Tame said, “It shouldn’t take having children to have a conscience.”

On Tuesday during a final visit to The Lodge, she either squinted frostily at Mr Morrison or tried to ignore him.

As The Age reported, opinions differ on whether her behaviour was appropriate for an Australian of the Year. After the scenes at The Lodge, Liberal senator James McGrath said she was childish and called on her to hand back her award.

Australian of the Year for 2022 Dylan Alcott.Credit:Eddie Jim

Even Rosie Batty, the 2015 Australian of the Year who championed the fight against domestic violence, has said she felt uncomfortable with some of Ms Tame’s tactics because they antagonised politicians who can help her change things. Yet her supporters say Ms Tame, who is 27, is the voice of a new generation of women who are tired of being nice and polite. They insist on being as rude and confrontational with men as men are with them. She did that at The Lodge.

This, of course, is not the first time that the position has attracted controversy. Frankly, there is no candidate who will please everyone and the opinions about an Australian of the Year will be as diverse and contradictory as the Australian community.

While not everyone will agree with Ms Tame’s behaviour, and some will believe it is unhelpful to her cause, The Age believes it is better for the selection panel of the National Australia Day Council to err on the side of choosing someone who is too outspoken rather than someone who barely makes a ripple.

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