Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has hit back at Tony Abbott over his claims that white settlement on January 26, 1788 was “good” for indigenous Australians.
As the nation counts down to Australia Day on Friday, Mr Abbott today stepped up his criticism of moves to change the date, telling Sydney radio station 2GB that white settlement was ”on balance for everyone – Aboriginal people included – a good thing.”
“It brought western civilization to the country. It brought Australia into the modern world,” he said.
Mr Abbott argued while Australia “did much better for a long time”, the nation was making progress.
“We are starting to see a significant Indigenous middle class,” Mr Abbott told 2GB host Ray Hadley.
And he pointed to the fact there are now six indigenous members of the Federal Parliament.
“This is progress. It really is progress,” Mr Abbott said.
“All of the things that we know and love about modern Australia are the lineal descendants of the settlers that came ashore with the First Fleet.”
But the Prime Minister – who has previously agreed that white settlement could be fairly categorised as an “invasion” – has distanced himself from Mr Abbott’s comments.
While Mr Turnbull said he was reluctant to engage in debate on the history of European settlement, he couldn’t bite his tongue.
“Obviously, it had tragic consequences for thousands of Indigenous Australians and the wrongs that were done in the past, we are setting right,” he told a media conference in Townsville this afternoon.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale kicked off the annual pre-Australia Day debate to switch the date of Australia Day, which has gained support but also strong resistance across the political divide.