Prime Minister Scott Morrison has responded to criticism suggesting he compared the suffering of Indigenous people to that of those onboard the First Fleet that arrived to colonise Australia.
Mr Morrison hit out at the interpretation of the comments he made on Thursday, branding it “false” to assume he was comparing the two.
Labor’s Indigenous Australians spokeswoman Linda Burney was enraged with Mr Morrison’s comments in which he urged Australians to remember the British who arrived in Botany Bay in January 1788.
Ms Burney said his comments made “no sense” and that he should be leading by example instead of hindering progress on issues such as Reconciliation and Closing the Gap.
“Suffering is not a competition,” she said on Twitter.
His comments caused a wave of outrage on social media, with one user saying they were a “heartless insult to Indigenous Australians”.
Yet Mr Morrison denied he was comparing the suffering of the convicts to that of Australia’s Indigenous residents, stressing that all of Australia’s stories are important in recognising the nation’s history.
“All stories should be respected. On Australia Day it is important to do that - understanding the loss, the gains, the successes, the failures, the hardships that were encountered,” he told reporters.
“Despite the hardship, whether that be that of dispossession and the terrible disease and destruction faced by the First Nations or whether it was the convicts who came, all those stories are important.
“They're not competing with each other.”
Indigenous Olympic legend Cathy Freeman was among those who lashed the prime minister for his initial remarks.
"You can't compare the experiences of those 12 (sic) ships that first arrived to this country to what their arrival meant for all generations of Australia's First Nations people," she posted to Twitter.
You can’t compare the experiences of those 12 ships that first arrived to
this country to what their arrival meant for all generations of Australia's First Nations people!
— Cathy Freeman (@CathyFreeman) January 22, 2021
Finance Minister defends PM
But Finance Minister Simon Birmingham leapt to his leader's defence.
Asked whether it was fair to compare scurvy to genocide, Senator Birmingham said he did not want to focus on the past.
"That was more than 200 years ago, convicts being brought out under forced orders from the United Kingdom," he told the ABC.
"I don't want to reflect on what was happening more than 200 years ago in terms of the individual circumstances for many individuals.
"They were pretty rough times for lots of people."
Senator Birmingham said he wanted people to concentrate on what Australia had achieved and the potential for greater success.
"We will achieve that greater success by bringing people together not by dividing them, by embracing the Indigenous heritage of this national and the multicultural heritage of this nation, and by celebrating it together and not trying to segment one over the other."
Warning for Invasion Day protesters
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has fired a warning shot for people planning to protest on January 26.
Thousands of protesters planning to march in nationwide "Invasion Day" rallies have been told police will not tolerate criminal behaviour and will enforce coronavirus restrictions.
"If people are going to protest, then they need to do it within the law," Mr Dutton told the Nine Network.
"They need to do it peacefully and people need to abide by the health directions."
Mr Dutton said state and federal governments had spent the past year trying to protect remote Indigenous communities from coronavirus.
"We don't want to see an outbreak and particularly amongst Indigenous Australians," he said.
"A lot of us have put in a lot of work over the course of this last 12 months to make sure that Indigenous Australians are protected from the virus.
"We don't want all that success unwound."
January 26 marks the raising of the Union Jack for the first time in 1788 after the British First Fleet's arrival in Botany Bay the previous week.
For many, it is a day of mourning that signals the European invasion of the continent after more than 60,000 years of Indigenous occupation.
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