Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stumbled over a question regarding comments he made yesterday that there was “no slavery” in Australia’s history.
Amid activists’ call for historical statues to be defaced and removed as the history wars over Black Lives Matter protests intensify around the globe, the PM told 2GB Australia’s record of slavery was better than many countries at the time.
Deeming Captain James Cook “one of the most enlightened persons on these issues you could imagine”, Mr Morrison said that Australia, “when it was founded as a settlement, as New South Wales, was on the basis that there’d be no slavery”.
The comments sparked instant backlash, with many questioning whether the PM knows the history of the country he leads.
And during a press conference today, asked if he regretted the claims which upset First Nations Australians, Mr Morrison further struggled to get the story straight.
“In Australia, we know we have had problems in our past,” he told reporters, adding the Federal Parliament have acknowledged those, before delving into the history of settlement in NSW.
“I’ve always said we need to look at our history. 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, if you go back to people like William Wilberforce and others, they were very involved in that First Fleet expedition and one of the principles was to be that Australia, or in that case New South Wales, 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.”
Mr Morrison, growing slightly irritated, then said, “We don’t intend to get into the history books”.
“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 books. They were simply trying to make the point that Australia, yes, we have had issues in our history.
“We have acknowledged them. I have acknowledged them. And we need to address them.
“I’m not denying any of the hideous practices that have taken place. I’m not denying any of that. And I don’t think it’s helpful to go into an endless history wars discussion about this. It’s all recorded,” Mr Morrison said, adding that the “heartbreaking stories” within remote Indigenous communities are “enough to bring any Australian to their knees in tears”.
Mr Morrison’s comments have again sparked criticism, with journalist Amy Remeikis pointing out on Twitter that it’s “not a ‘history war’ to say there was slavery in Australia. It. Is. Our. Actual. History.”
“Another PM half apology,” one person wrote, while another said the PM “has no right to pick and choose what part of Indigenous history he supports and what he sweeps under the mat”.
The PM’s comments yesterday were labelled “embarrassing, and yet another example of mediocrity”. “Imagine being either so intentionally misleading, or offensively uneducated about the very nation you’re paid to ‘lead’,” another Twitter user posted.