Dutton unswayed on Port Arthur remarks, despite criticism

Jason Clare on Dutton's comments

Source: X

Unrepentant Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has again defended his incendiary comments about the Port Arthur massacre, despite criticism from all sides.

In a speech on Wednesday, Dutton compared the response to a pro-Palestinian protest at the Sydney Opera House – just days after the outbreak of the current Middle Eastern conflict – to the 1996 shooting in Tasmania.

“While no one was killed during the October 9 protests, the events at the Sydney Opera House were akin to a Port Arthur moment in terms of their social significance,” he said.

Martin Bryant is serving 35 life sentences after gunning down 35 people and wounding 23 others in Port Arthur on April 28, 1996. It remains Australia’s worst mass shooting.

Dutton’s comparisons have drawn widespread condemnation, including from Tasmanian Liberal MP Bridget Archer.

“[Dutton’s comments were] incredibly disrespectful to the victims and survivors of one of the darkest days in our nation’s history, and a wholly inappropriate and somewhat bizarre comparison,” Archer said.

Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockcliff also said the comparison should never have been made.

“This is still raw for many Tasmanians and will be forever raw with those who are directly affected,” he told ABC Radio.

“It’s up to Mr Dutton in terms of clarifying what he has said. 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.”

Foreign Minister Penny Wong – whose comments on a two-state solution to the conflict in Gaza were also criticised by Dutton – has urged him to dial down the division.

“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 to land domestic political punches, is actually walking away from what has been a bipartisan position,” she told Sky News Australia.

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

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

Sussan Ley on Peter Dutton

Source: Sunrise

There has also been criticism from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and NSW Premier Chris Minns. Labor’s federal member for Lyons, Brian Mitchell, whose electorate includes Port Arthur, urged Dutton to “refrain from making such divisive and inflammatory comments using the tragedy in our community”.

But on Friday, Dutton again stood by the remarks, saying the comparison was about Albanese’s leadership.

“The point I was making – which is absolutely a legitimate one – is that I thought this was a time for the Prime Minister to show leadership and to step up,” he told Nine’s Today program.

“Instead, we’ve had crickets.

“You’ve got a contrast, 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.”

In the aftermath of the shootings, then-Liberal PM Howard introduced sweeping gun control legislation.

But, while acknowledging the criticism, Dutton said Albanese had failed to act to reduce anti-Semitism in the community as the Gaza conflict worsened.

“That’s the parallel that I’m making, to the absolute absence of leadership from the Prime Minister at the moment, which has given rise to those in the Jewish community talking about feeling unsafe in our country,” he said.

“I don’t resile from that at all.”

Government Services Minister Bill Shorten said while it was important to call out anti-Semitism, the comparison to Port Arthur was wrong.

“I do agree that some Jewish people do feel unsafe in this country for the first time; it needs to be called out. But I think the one thing that Mr Dutton has made a mistake about … is conflating it with Port Arthur,” he told Today.

“They’re two separate issues, Port Arthur was a shocking, murderous, evil act in Australia.

“[Dutton] should work with the Prime Minister to call out inflammatory language here rather than throw kero on the bonfire of hate.”

But Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley backed Dutton.

“The point that Peter Dutton was making [was] there are pivotal and seminal moments in our nation’s history where leaders … need to stand up,” she told Sunrise.

“We saw that in that time with John Howard, and we changed the laws about guns in Australia forever.”

-with AAP

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