Protesters gather in Sydney to support the cause of US protests over the death of George Floyd. Black Lives Matter protests across Australia proceeded mostly peacefully as thousands of demonstrators in state capitals honoured the memory of Floyd and protested the deaths of Indigenous Australians in custody. File picture: Rick Rycroft/AP
Protesters gather in Sydney to support the cause of US protests over the death of George Floyd. Black Lives Matter protests across Australia proceeded mostly peacefully as thousands of demonstrators in state capitals honoured the memory of Floyd and protested the deaths of Indigenous Australians in custody. File picture: Rick Rycroft/AP

Prime Minister Morrison apologizes for saying there's 'no slavery' in Australian history

By Subel Bhandari Time of article published Jun 12, 2020

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Canberra - Prime Minister Scott Morrison has apologized after being criticized for claiming "there was no slavery" in Australia.

"My comments were not intended to give offence and if they did I deeply regret that and apologise for that," Morrison said Friday in a press conference. 

In recent days, some monuments, due to their role in the history of the slave trade, have been pulled down in some countries as part of the growing global Black Lives Matter movement. 

Morrison broached the topic when he was asked about the possible removal of statues in Britain of explorers such as Captain James Cook, who claimed Australia for the British regime in 1770. 

"It was a pretty brutal place. But, there was no slavery in Australia," Morrison told Sydney's 2GB radio on Thursday.

But his critics pointed out there was slave trade in Australia, including South Pacific Islanders kidnapped and forced into labouring as indentured workers in sugar cane fields in Australia between the mid-1800s and early 1900s, when more than 62,500 people were brought. 

Also, Aboriginal Australians were captured and forced to work without any wages for many decades. 

"It's pretty obvious that when you chain people up by the neck and force them to march 300 kilometres and then work on cattle stations for non-indigenous barons, then that is slavery," indigenous historian Bruce Pascoe told Australia radio ABC on Friday morning. 

Morrison said it is not helpful "to go into an endless history war discussion about this." 

"I acknowledge there have been all sorts of hideous practices that have taken place. I'm not denying any of that," he said Friday.

In recent weeks, Australians have joined global Black Lives Matter movement protest, with rallies organized in all major cities against Aboriginal incarceration rates and deaths in custody. 

Morrison described the incarceration rates as heartbreaking.

"The challenges of indigenous incarceration go across so many different areas of public policy," Morrison said Friday.

It is "an incredibly complicated area," he said, adding there is a commitment to act and there is no shortage of funding. 

According to government figures, Indigenous Australians make up about 30 per cent of the prison population, even though they are just 3 per cent of the country's total population.

About 20 per cent of people who have died in custody were Indigenous Australians.

More Black Lives Matter protests are planned on Friday and Saturday, despite severe warnings from police and politicians. 

Morrison "strongly urged" people not to participate in protests due to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. He also said protesters should be charged if they break social distancing rules. 

Rallies for asylum seekers and refugees have also been planned for Saturday in Melbourne and Sydney. 

Meanwhile, three organisers of last week's Black Lives Matter protest in Melbourne were fined 1,652 dollars (1,130 US dollars) each on Friday for breaching coronavirus restrictions.

More than 20 000 people had participated in the protest, which was spearheaded by the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance. 

dpa

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