Tony Abbott's white settlement remarks offend Indigenous leaders


‘The arrival of the first fleet was the defining moment in the history of this continent,’ PM tells audience at national museum Indigenous leaders have reacted angrily to Tony Abbott’s assertion that white settlement was the defining moment in Australian history. The prime minister made the comment in Canberra on Friday at the launch of a project on the 100 defining moments in Australian history at the National Museum of Australia. “The arrival of the first fleet was the defining moment in the history of this continent. Let me repeat that, it was the defining moment in the history of this continent,” he said. “It was the moment this continent became part of the modern world.”


His remarks drew a prompt reaction from Warren Mundine, the chairman of Abbott’s Indigenous advisory panel.

“Well it was a defining moment, there’s no argument about that. It was also a disastrous defining moment for Indigenous people,” Mundine told the ABC.

Abbott said British settlement provided the foundation for Australia to become one of the most prosperous societies on earth.

Mundine said this might be true, but not everyone was benefiting.

“Does that mean that Aboriginal people have prospered from that? Of course not,” he said.

“We’re miles behind everyone else and in fact I wouldn’t be sitting in this job if Aboriginal people did prosper. There wouldn’t be a need for the chair of the Indigenous Advisory Council or the council as a whole.”

The head of the Stolen Generation Council for New South Wales and the ACT, Matilda House, called the prime minister’s comments ridiculous.

“I think politicians really don’t think when they make these one-liners,” she told the ABC.

“I can’t fathom how a ship or a boat sailed into Sydney Harbour can overtake the 60,000 years before.”

The co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, Kirstie Parker, said Abbott was not speaking to all Australians.

“I think it speaks only to a particular section of Australian society. It doesn’t speak to all Australians,” she said.

“That’s a pity because I think it sets us back somewhat.

“This notion that the real Australia, the true Australia, the good and modern Australia started in 1788 is of course offensive to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Six historians helped compile the list of 100 defining moments, including historian Professor John Maynard, who is also Indigenous.

“We were a little bit disturbed, to say the least, by that particular comment, the way that it was framed. But as I said, I mean, he’s open to have his opinion,” he said.

The deputy prime minister, Warren Truss, said white settlement was significant but not the only part of Australian history.

He told the ABC it had changed the country, but he acknowledged the contribution of the Indigenous population.

“There were Aboriginal people here before. Their way of recording history was different from what there has been since there has been European settlement,” he said.