Shock over Dutton’s Port Arthur comments

Peter Dutton has defended comparing a pro-Palestinian protest to the Port Arthur massacre. Picture: NCA NewsWire / John Appleyard

Peter Dutton has refused to walk back his comparison of the response to the Port Arthur massacre to a pro-Palestine protest at the Sydney Opera House.

The Opposition Leader sparked fierce criticism for the remarks he made during a speech on Wednesday night, warning about the rise in anti-Semitism.

He compared the 9 October pro-Palestine protests outside the Sydney Opera House last year to the Port Arthur massacre, which prompted then-prime minister John Howard to reform Australia’s gun laws.

Thirty-five people were killed and 23 others were wounded in the mass shooting in 1996.

Peter Dutton has refused to walk back comments he made comparing the Port Arthur massacre to a pro-Palestine protest at the Sydney Opera House.
Peter Dutton was grilled about comments he made comparing Port Arthur to a pro-Palestine protest.

He later repeated the comments, insisting Mr Howard’s response had been “strong” and claimed Mr Albanese did not rise to the moment.

On Friday, Mr Dutton fronted up on the Today show where he again defended the remarks when asked if he went too far. He argued he was just trying to make a parallel between the two leaders’ responses.

“The point I was making, which is absolutely a legitimate one, is that I thought this was a time for the Prime Minister (Anthony Albanese) to show leadership and to step up,” Mr Dutton said.

“I think, with John Howard, who stood up at a point of national importance for our country, demonstrated leadership and changed the course of history for the better. The Prime Minister has allowed this rise of anti-Semitism in our country.”

“I don’t resile from that at all.”

Mr Dutton’s fury was sparked by comments made by the Foreign Minister Penny Wong in her own speech earlier this week, which left the door open for Australia to back Palestinian statehood in the UN.

“Penny Wong never went to cabinet with this proposal. It’s not agreed to by the Palestinian leaders here in Australia,” he said.

Penny Wong argued there was nothing to see here. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

But Senator Wong argued there was nothing new in her comments.

“The point I have been making is beyond the immediate conflict we need to look at how we create that pathway to peace and that’s the discussion that has been happening in the international community,” she told Sky News.

The Foreign Minister pointed the finger back at Mr Dutton and claimed it was him, not her, that walked away from bipartisanship on the issue of Palestinian statehood.

“The change in foreign policy position actually isn’t with the government, the change in foreign policy position is with Peter Dutton, who in his usual attempt to try and plant domestic political punches is actually walking away from what has been a bipartisan position between parties,” she said.

“I think what we know about (Mr) Dutton is he always wants to raise the temperature and his inflammatory language this week is just yet another example.

Mr Dutton’s frontbench colleagues all lined up to defend the comments. Picture: NCA NewsWire / John Appleyard

“You don’t hear (Mr) Dutton talking about how we protect civilian lives or the lives of humanitarian workers. What you do hear i him engaging with his overblown, inflammatory rhetoric, the reference to Port Arthur I think, was really poor.”

Mr Dutton’s comments were rebuked by Liberal MP Bridget Archer, who represents the Tasmanian seat of Bass. She told the Guardian his comparison was “wholly inappropriate”.

When asked about the internal criticism, Mr Dutton responded: “Oh … by one backbencher whom I respect but has a different view on many issues and that’s fine.”

But Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff, the sole Liberal state leader, also condemned the comparison.

“It is never appropriate to compare the Port Arthur tragedy with anything, in any circumstance. This is still raw for many Tasmanians and will be forever raw with those who are directly affected,” he told ABC Hobart. “It’s up to Mr Dutton in terms of clarifying what he has said.

Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff said the comparison was not appropriate. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

“My view is we need to be very careful and never compare the Port Arthur tragedy to anything but the absolutely tragedy that it was.”

Meanwhile, Mr Dutton’s frontbench team were rolled out across morning shows and radio to defend the comments.

“Peter is a conviction politician who says what he means, not what he expects people to hear,” deputy Sussan Ley rationalised on Seven.

Home Affairs spokesman James Paterson claimed that Mr Albanese had made a “false moral equivalence” between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

“They’re both equally morally repugnant, that’s clear, but one of them is much more prevalent,” he told ABC Radio.

Government Services Minister Bill Shorten said it was a mistake to conflate Port Arthur with the “unacceptable” rise in anti-Semitism.

Education Minister Jason Clare said it was “extraordinary” for Mr Dutton to blame a rise in anti-Semitism on the government.

“If you want to run the country, you can’t run your mouth,” he said.

Labor’s Brian Mitchell, whose electorate of Lyons includes Port Arthur, also condemned Mr Dutton’s speech.

“I would ask Peter Dutton to reflect on that and refrain from making such divisive and inflammatory comments using the tragedy in our community,” he said.