Scott Morrison cops backlash after arguing January 26 was a tough day for convicts on the First Fleet as well as Indigenous Australians
- Australia Day on January 26 marks the day the First Fleet raised the British flag
- Aboriginal rights activists say the country should not celebrate colonisation
- Prime Minister Scott Morrison said ‘it wasn’t a particularly flash day’ for convicts
Scott Morrison has come under fire for saying January 26 was a tough day for convicts on the First Fleet.
Aboriginal rights activists argue the nation should not celebrate Australia Day because it marks the start of colonisation and the oppression of Indigenous Australians.
But the prime minister said the convicts who arrived from Britain and raised the Union Jack in 1788 also had a difficult time.
The prime minister said Australia Day – also known as Invasion Day – was an important date to reflect on how far the country had come
‘On Australia Day, it’s all about acknowledging how far we’ve come,’ Mr Morrison told reporters in Queensland on Thursday.
‘You know, when those 12 ships turned up in Sydney, it wasn’t a particularly flash day for the people on those vessels either.’
Convicts shipped to Australia from Ireland and the UK were often treated as slave labor and were subject to ‘assigned service’ where they were leased out to rich landowners to use as a cheap workforce.
But critics have accused Mr Morrison of drawing a false equivalence between those aboard the First Fleet and the experience of Australia’s Indigenous people.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were living on the continent for more than 60,000 years before the British arrived.
Indigenous people have since endured widespread massacres, oppression and dispossession.
Aboriginal prisoners outside Roebourne Gaol in Western Australia, circa 1896
Aboriginal prisoners in chains, posed with a policeman and Aboriginal trackers, circa 1890
For many Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, January 26 is a day of sorrow and mourning.
One of Mr Morrison’s critics – Labor MP Graham Perrett – also pointed out there were actually only 11 ships in the First Fleet.
‘Luckily our prime minister doesn’t have an electorate connected with this event,’ Mr Perrett said sarcastically.
The prime minister represents the seat of Cook, named in honour of Captain James Cook, a navigator in the Royal Navy who is credited as the first European to discover the east coast of Australia in 1770.
The prime minister is a descendant of William Roberts, who came to Australia as a convict aboard the Scarborough in the First Fleet.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is seen during a visit to Northern Oil Refinery in Gladstone