'Get a grip': Scott Morrison slams calls to remove Captain Cook statues

If you didn’t know already, Scott Morrison really likes Captain James Cook.

So it’s no surprise the Prime Minister has lambasted those suggesting any statues celebrating the British explorer should be removed.

Mr Morrison has told people calling for the removal of statues of Captain Cook to pull their heads in and “get a grip”.

It comes after a string of similar cases in the UK and the US where statues of historical figures, who have links to slavery, have been pulled down as Black Lives Matter protests have swept through the western world.

Scott Morrison has frequently sought to promote the story of Captain Cook. Source: Getty

It is fitting that Mr Morrison represents the federal seat of Cook, named after fabled British explorer, because you’ll be hard pressed to find a bigger admirer of the man.

As Treasurer and now PM, Mr Morrison allocated $50 million to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s voyage to Australia. He also announced a $6.7 million for a replica of his Endeavour ship to retrace part of the journey.

But while Mr Morrison presents as eagerly acquainted with some parts of Australia’s colonial history, the Prime Minister has been accused of having a “very selective” understanding, and has drawn criticism for claiming the country does not have a history of slavery.

Asked whether he supported the removal of statues of Captain Cook, Mr Morrison said: “Cook was no slave trader.

“He was one of the most enlightened persons on these issues you could imagine,” he told 3AW radio on Thursday.

“Australia when it was founded as a settlement, as NSW, was on the basis that there'd be no slavery.

“It was a pretty brutal place, but there was no slavery in Australia.”

‘A very selective understanding of Australia’s history’

However, Australia does have a history of forced labour and stolen wages of Aboriginal people, which lasted until the 1970s.

Indigenous Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy said the prime minister's comments demonstrated “a very selective understanding of Australia's history”.

Pink paint is seen covering the head of the James Cook statue in St Kilda, Melbourne, Thursday in 2018. Cook has recently become a divisive figure. Source: AAP

Senator McCarthy said the Cocos-Keeling Islands began with slavery and indentured labour, while parts of north Queensland's prosperity was built by South Sea Islanders kidnapped from their homes to work in cane fields.

"In the Northern Territory, the pastoral industry was built on the backs of Aboriginal people who were not paid equal wages to their white counterparts," she said.

"The PM would do well to look into the history of the country he is trying to lead. 

"These are all part of our nation's history, as well as the arrival of Captain Cook and the First Fleet. Truth-telling must be an integral part of unifying our country, not dividing it."

Australians ‘in denial about real history of this country’

While Mr Morrison was initially referring to NSW, his blanket claim of no slavery has been met with a chorus of criticism, including from indigenous author and historian Bruce Pascoe, who pointed out what the reality was for Aboriginals around the country.

“When you capture people, and put chains around their necks, and make them walk 300 kilometres and then set them to work on cattle stations, what's that called?" Mr Pascoe told the Sydney Morning Herald.

"That's what happened in Western Australia and in the [Northern] Territory and in Queensland."

"It doesn't matter what you call it," he added. "It's brutality and I think a lot of Australia are in denial about the real history of the country."

Labor's indigenous affairs spokeswoman Linda Burney said Mr Morrison's comments highlighted the importance of truth-telling.

"The prime minister's comments demonstrate a need for a greater understanding and awareness of our nation's history," she told AAP.

"We cannot achieve meaningful progress on matters such as reconciliation if, as a nation, we are not aware of the historical context of the challenges we face in the present.

"One of the crucial elements of the Uluru Statement was a national process of truth-telling."

The prime minister said Australian protesters raised fair issues about indigenous incarceration rates and deaths in custody, but said the movement was being hijacked by radical left-wingers to push other causes.

"This is not a licence for people to just go nuts on this stuff," Mr Morrison told 2GB radio.

Senior government ministers have been highly critical of the Black Lives Matter marches in Australia on the weekend, including Mr Morrison who said Australians shouldn’t import problems from other nations.

with AAP

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