Women Opinion

Peter van Onselen's misogyny should be taken off air

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Journalist Peter van Onselen has been criticised over slandering Grace Tame's demeanour towards the PM (Image by Dan Jensen)

Grace Tame’s refusal to appease Morrison with a smile has set off a typical reaction from privileged, middle-aged men, including Peter van Onselen whose smug arrogance and sexism should no longer be tolerated by Channel 10.

* CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses rape

Australia has a Prime Minister who can’t understand the seriousness of rape unless he thinks about it as a father, also believing female protesters are lucky not to be met with bullets. Our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is a misogynist and it’s entirely appropriate to believe on the available evidence that his government deliberately covered up the rape of Brittany Higgins.

Despite all of this, when 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame (who is a sexual abuse survivor) refused to smile in a photo-op with said Prime Minister, a bunch of sexist, entitled, middle-aged men had a childish meltdown and used their platforms to attack her for displaying authentic and understandable feelings. One of these men was Peter van Onselen — Channel 10 should cut him loose.

Our country needs real action on safety and respect for women, that’s why at least 13 Independent female candidates are running on such a platform at the upcoming Federal Election, but we shouldn’t have to wait that long. Australia’s women have waited long enough and even though our Federal Government refuses to act, that doesn’t mean others can’t take action as individuals — or as a television network. 

Since allegations emerged against van Onselen’s close friend Christian Porter in March 2021, van Onselen has time and time again proven himself to be no friend of women and incapable of the integrity required not to comment on matters where he has a clear conflict of interest.

It started on ABC’s Insiders on 7 March 2021, where van Onselen said the following:

At the macro-level, I couldn't be happier that there is this shift that has occurred, so that women are coming forward and so that there is a move for change so that sexual abuse can somehow hopefully get better recognised and reform of the system.


At the micro-level though, if it's someone you know and if they claim that they're innocent — boy it's a difficult issue.

These comments were and still are highly offensive but evidently not offensive enough for Channel 10 to cut ties with van Onselen. The notion of explaining the “difficulty” of being friends with an accused rapist on national TV is vomit-inducing.

A week after these comments, Peter van Onselen made the following (since deleted) Tweet:

(Image supplied)

Franz Kafka’s The Trial is summarised as the story of ‘a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor to the reader’.

Porter was never prosecuted and a statement was never taken from his accuser, so the plot of The Trial does not apply. If van Onselen was suggesting that he or Porter were prosecuted (by public opinion), then that is even more ludicrous. The public has every right to express their views on Porter’s guilt or innocence and also has every right to criticise van Onselen for his gutter journalism on this topic.

Peter van Onselen continued to write on the allegations against Porter, despite the clear conflict of interest and went on to publish the dossier of Porter’s accuser, and deliberately attempted to smear her reputation by highlighting her mental health struggles and doubts on her rape claim:

‘Her life and death are a tragedy. Especially for her family, who have expressed concerns that, perhaps due to mental illness that included a bipolar disorder, she may have imagined the rape.’

It’s of vital importance to note that one’s mental health issues should never be used to cast doubt over allegations of rape or sexual assault.

In April 2021, van Onselen published another article claiming that on addressing sexual assault, ‘surprisingly few ideas for change have been articulated this past month’. This statement was simply not true; at the time, the Respect@Work report had sat untouched with the Government for over a year and Grace Tame was calling for consent training in schools, in addition to a national definition on consent.

There were, of course, plenty of other solutions on offer from activists and experts but van Onselen wasn’t interested in that. Instead, he contributed to the sexist narrative that women only have complaints, rather than ideas and solutions.

Late last year, van Onselen attempted to flex his power and privilege over Professor Gemma Carey by serving a defamation concerns notice simultaneously with Christian Porter and MP Andrew Laming. Van Onselen was upset by comments that Professor Carey had made on Twitter and he now has the screenshots of Professor Carey’s apology pinned at the top of his Twitter profile.

Now, Peter van Onselen has come after Grace Tame and labelled her childish for refusing to smile when dragged into a photo-op with the Prime Minister. When you take in all of van Onselen’s actions as listed above, it’s no surprise that he believes he should have some say on how women should think, feel and act.

It’s time men like van Onselen realised that women don’t have to smile, they don’t have to be kind and they don’t have to fake happiness or “civility” to protect someone’s image and ego — particularly the image and ego of a misogynistic prime minister.

Let’s be clear. As the outgoing Australian of the Year, Grace Tame had every right to be in attendance. Her attendance at the event had nothing to do with the Prime Minister, so the notion that she should not attend due to her dislike of Morrison is simply illogical. Grace Tame certainly doesn’t owe the Prime Minister anything – not even a smile – and the arrogance of Morrison to grab Grace for a photo-op, given the actions (and inaction) of himself and his Government is simply disturbing even if expected.

As we wait for the 2022 Election and hopefully a new government, why can’t Channel 10 stand up and say enough is enough and terminate van Onselen as an employee? By keeping van Onselen on the payroll and giving him a platform on The Project, Channel 10 is not only endorsing his smug sexism, but they are also actively amplifying it.

If you would like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online

Hayden O’Connor is an I.T. professional from Tasmania who currently lives in Melbourne. You can follow Hayden on Twitter @HaydenJOConnor.

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