Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been blasted over a controversial comment that critics claim compared the struggles of Indigenous people to those on the First Fleet.
Speaking to reporters in Gladstone in Central Queensland, the prime minister said Australia Day – known as Invasion Day to some – was an important date to reflect on how far the country had come.
He spoke about the experience of those aboard the First Fleet, who raised the Union Jack for the first time on January 26, 1788, after arriving the previous week.
“On Australia Day, it’s all about acknowledging how far we’ve come. When those 12 ships turned up in Sydney all those years ago it wasn’t a particularly flash day for the people on those vessels either,” he said.
He went on to say Australia did not airbrush moments that happened in history and the nation has been “upfront and honest” about its past.
Mr Morrison said it was important to mark Australia Day to honour how far the country had come since that day.
“The national apologies that have been put in place show that we’re prepared to deal with our past. But more importantly, we don’t allow it to get in the way of our future,” he said.
“We’ve got to always remain focused on that. We are such a blessed country.”
The prime minister is a descendant of William Roberts, who came to Australia as a convict aboard the Scarborough in the First Fleet.
PM slammed over Australia Day comments
According to not-for-profit Indigenous organisation Australians Together, Australia Day is a day of mourning for many Indigenous people as it marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First fleet of British ships.
“The 26th of January isn’t a day for celebrating,” the organisation said.
“Indigenous people may be just as proud of this country, but many see January 26 as a date signifying the beginning of dispossession, disease epidemics, frontier violence, destruction of culture, exploitation, abuse, separation of families and subjection to policies of extreme social control.”
Senator for South Australia Sarah Hanson-Young posted a clip on Twitter and slammed the Prime Minister over his comment.
“Seriously Prime Minister, who the heck is advising you? Or do you come up with this rubbish on your own?” she said.
“Read the room.”
Scott Morrison comments in “Australia Day”....
Seriously Prime Minister, who the heck is advising you? Or do you come up with this rubbish on your own??
Read. The. Room 👇 pic.twitter.com/aoYFODla7k
— 💚🌏 Sarah Hanson-Young (@sarahinthesen8) January 21, 2021
Another of Mr Morrison's critics – Labor MP Graham Perrett – also pointed out there were actually only 11 ships in the First Fleet.
"Luckily our prime minister doesn't have an electorate connected with this event," Mr Perrett quipped, referring to Mr Morrison’s seat of Cook.
Another offended Australian said on Twitter the Prime Minister’s comments were a “heartless insult to Indigenous Australians”.
“Comparing the massacre of Indigenous Australians to the punishments received by convicts is disgusting,” the man wrote.
“Is this a joke? I just cannot believe ANYONE would say that, let alone a Prime Minister,” another said.
“What’s worse? Scurvy or genocide?” a third questioned.
The prime minister represents the seat of Cook, named in honour of Captain James Cook, a navigator in the Royal Navy who is credited as the first European to discover the east coast of Australia in 1770.
When Yahoo News Australia contacted the Prime Minister’s office for a response to the criticism they did not provide a comment.
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