Scott Morrison apologised for any offence over his claims there was no history of slavery in Australia as he urged a clear-eyed discussion of the “heartbreaking” drug and alcohol abuse in some remote Aboriginal communities.
It’s his second public apology in just 24 hours, after he apologised for the harm caused by the $700 million Robodebt bungle which saw welfare recipients hounded for illegal debts.
The Prime Minister told Radio 2GB on Thursday that there was no history of slavery, a claim that was ridiculed given the history of forced labour by pastoralists and among Pacific Islanders kidnapped to work on sugar cane farms.
“The comments I was referring to was how the New South Wales settlement was first established and the views that were communicated at the time, informing the NSW colony,” the Prime Minister said.
“If you go back to people like William Wilberforce and others, they were involved in that First Fleet expedition and one of the principles was to be that Australia or in that case, NSW, was not to have lawful slavery. And that was indeed the case.
“There was not the laws that have ever proved to slavery in this country. So we don’t intend to get into the history wars.
“My comments were not intended to give offence and if they did I deeply regret that and apologise for that. This is not about getting into the history wars. They were simply trying to make the point that Australia, yes, we have had issues in our history.”
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In a passionate defence of his history as a political leader who is engaged in improving the lives of Indigenous communities, Mr Morrison said endemic problems in some communities could not be brushed under the carpet.
“I acknowledge there have been all sorts of heinous practices that have taken place,’’’ he said.
“And so I’m not denying any of that. OK? I’m not denying any of that. And I don’t think it’s helpful to go into an endless history discussion about this. It’s all recorded.
“But the heartbreaking stories within remote Indigenous communities, of abuse, sexual violence, of alcoholism, of drug abuse. It’s heartbreaking. But it’s true. You want to have an honest discussion about what’s happening in communities, you can’t ignore those for either and it’s chronic. And it is enough to bring any Australian to their knees in tears.
“And so this is a complex issue. There is no shortage of funds being thrown at this issue. But clearly the application of funds by governments over decades and decades and decades is not getting the results we want. I can assure you it’s not through a lack of will, it’s an admission of the complexity and the difficulty of the task.”
“I’m worried about jobs. I’m worried about 800,000 Australians going on to JobSeeker in the last three months. I’m not interested in what they’re showing on streaming services,’’ he said.
“I’m interested in getting Australians back to work. I’m not interested in the debate on what people want to tear down.
“Honestly people – let’s focus on what’s really happening. 800,000 extra people are on JobSeeker in the last few months. You want to know where my focus is? On them. And the businesses that have closed and the livelihoods that have been destroyed. What you’re watching on television is your business. Not going to create one job. Let’s focus on where Australians are hurting today. And they really are hurting. And I will not be distracted.”