Former Prime Minister John Howard has claimed that the violent riots on Cronulla Beach were not an example of underlying racism, which he denies exists in Australia.
The 81-year-old, who lead the nation between 1996 and 2007, made the remarks during the results of The Australia Talks National Survey on Monday evening, hosted by Annabel Crabb and Nazeem Hussain.
The program is based on a survey by the ABC where 60,000 Australians are asked about 600 questions about politics, sex, community, and family values.
Mr Hussain told the former leader that 76 per cent of residents responded saying there is underlying racism in Australia – a statistic which sits in direct opposition to Mr Howard’s opinion of the 2005 riots.
During the Cronulla riots (pictured) in 2005, gangs of young men from white backgrounds waged running skirmishes with young men of Middle Eastern backgrounds
Before the riots, text messages circulated calling on locals to fight back the following weekend including one asking them to ‘get down to North Cronulla to support Leb and wog bashing day’ (pictured, the 2005 riots)
After gangs of young men from white backgrounds waged running skirmishes with young men of Middle Eastern backgrounds, the then-Prime Minister denied that racism was a problem in Australia.
The civil unrest was sparked by several incidents, including two teenage lifeguards at North Cronulla beach who were attacked by a Lebanese Australian gang.
When speaking on the ABC on Monday, Mr Howard acknowledged that there are likely racist people in Australia, but he largely echoed the same sentiments as back in 2005.
Mr Hussain said: ‘After the Cronulla riots, you refused to call it out as racism. Instead, you said “there is no underlying racism in Australia”, yet today 76 per cent of Australians say there is a lot of racism in Australia.’
‘Are they wrong?’
Pictured: Nazeem Hussain, an ABC presenter who asked John Howard if he believes Australia has underlying race issues
Pictured: Former Prime Minister John Howard during an interview with Annabel Crabb and Nazeem Hussain on Australia Talks on Monday evening – in which he denied inherent racism exists in Australia
Mr Howard replied: ‘That has not been my experience. I have to respectfully, to that 76 per cent, say I don’t think there is underlying racism in Australia.’
Mr Hussain repeated: ‘You don’t think there’s racism in Australia?’
‘No, I don’t,’ Mr Howard said.
‘On reflection, would you characterise the Cronulla riots as racist?,’ Mr Hussain asked.
‘No, I don’t,’ the former PM said again.
In 2005, text messages circulated calling on locals to fight back the following weekend including one asking them to ‘get down to North Cronulla to support Leb and wog bashing day’.
An estimated 5,000 people, many fuelled by alcohol, converged on Cronulla car park for the demonstration and it quickly escalated into a riot.
Pictured: Young men jumping the fence at Cronulla railway station during the riots in 2005
Pictured: Two men and a police officer in a brawl during the Cronulla riots in Sydney in 2005
At the time, horrific pictures of the day showed people – mostly of middle-eastern appearance – being glassed and hit as crazed onlookers cheered on the attackers.
Mr Howard said the scenes did not mean racism was an issue in Australia.
‘I do not accept there is underlying racism in this country,’ Mr Howard said the day after the riots.
‘I have always taken a more optimistic view of the character of the Australian people.’
On Monday, he reiterated his view and said: ‘My view about the Cronulla riots is that is was not an example of underlying racism.’
Pictured: A police officer pinning a man to the ground during the Cronulla riots in 2005
The Cronulla riots (pictured) saw 5,000 people converge on the south Sydney beach
‘I think that is a supremely pessimistic view of the Australian community and I’ve seen so many examples of where people of different races have worked together in a seamless fashion for the common good.
‘I think that’s a hugely pessimistic view of the Australian community.’
Mr Howard retired from politics after conceding to Kevin Rudd in 2007 in a stunning victory that marked the end of his 12-year reign.
He was a guest on the program because he was voted the nation’s favourite former prime minister.
A man is chased by an angry crowd in Cronulla on December 11, 2005, after riots were sparked by an attack on two lifeguards by Lebanese Australians