Australian PM feels the heat for 'no slavery in Australia' comment

This article is more than 12 months old

SYDNEY : Australian officials warned Black Lives Matter supporters they could be arrested if they breach coronavirus restrictions to take part in public protests, as debate erupted over the country's own indigenous history.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison drew strong criticism yesterday after he said "there was no slavery in Australia" during a discussion of the early days of British settlement, which he acknowledged was "pretty brutal".

Historians, Aboriginal activists and some lawmakers expressed shock and dismay at the comments.

"Slavery of indigenous men, women and children is well documented," said former federal lawmaker Sharman Stone, now politics professor at Monash University.

"Slaves worked in pearling, fishing, the pastoral industries and as domestic labour."

The Black Lives Matter movement has refocused attention in Australia on the mistreatment of indigenous Australians, including Aboriginal deaths in custody.

Victoria state officials confirmed yesterday that one of eight new cases of Covid-19 reported yesterday was a man who attended the Melbourne weekend rally. Australia has recorded 7,285 cases, including 102 deaths. More unauthorised protests are planned for today.

"We will start writing tickets of A$1,000 (S$960) and we can use all of our powers to move people on," New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller told 2GB Radio. "If you don't move on, well then you'll be arrested."

In a separate development, Mr Morrison said Australia would not be intimidated by attempts at economic "coercion" after China threatened to undermine the multi-billion dollar flow of Chinese tourists and students to the country.

He dismissed allegations of racist treatment of Chinese as "rubbish".

"It's a ridiculous assertion and it's rejected," he said during a radio interview.

"We have an important trading relationship with China and I'd like to see that continue," Mr Morrison said.

But he warned his government would "never be intimidated by threats" or "trade our values in response to coercion from wherever it comes". - AFP, REUTERS