Posted on March 2, 2006

Abbott Withdraws Race Query

Courier Mail (Brisbane, Australia), Mar. 1, 2006

Health Minister Tony Abbott has been forced to withdraw comments after asking whether there were any Australians left in the Labor Party.

Opposition MPs booed and jeered in Question Time after Mr Abbott referred to Cambodian, Vietnamese, Spanish and Greek Labor Party members — then asked where the Australians were.

A day after defending multiculturalism in a newspaper column, Mr Abbott questioned the ethnic branch-stacking in the Victorian ALP, where several sitting members in safe seats are facing preselection challenges.

Labor’s Bob Sercombe yesterday pulled out of the pre-selection race for his seat of Maribyrnong, conceding he could not win.

Six other MPs also face challenges, including Simon Crean who is under pressure from union boss Martin Pakula in the Melbourne seat of Hotham.

“Mr Pakula may be very appealing to Cambodian speaking people who are just two per cent of the electorate of Hotham but they’re 30 per cent of the Labor pre-selectors of Hotham,” Mr Abbott said. “I’m reading in The Australian last Friday, he’s (Mr Crean) still got the Greek branches but he’s lost the Spanish branches and he’s lost the Vietnamese branches as well as the Cambodian branches.

“And I couldn’t help but think — are there any Australians left in the so-called Australian Labor Party today?”

Opposition frontbencher Anthony Albanese, whose inner-Sydney electorate of Grayndler has a large non-English speaking population, immediately objected.

“My point of order, Mr Speaker, is for the minister to withdraw that extraordinarily outrageous slur on every Australian who doesn’t have an Anglo-Celtic name in this country,” Mr Albanese said.

“We’ve heard the dog whistle from this mob one after the other, but this minister as usual has gone too far and I ask him to withdraw it.”

Speaker David Hawker said he did not find the comment offensive.

“Well Mr Speaker, I did and 46 per cent of my electorate will find that offensive as well,” Mr Albanese said.

Mr Abbott withdrew the comment but accused Labor of pigeonholing people by their race.

“I’m happy to withdraw anything that’s given him offence but I say this — I think the Australian people are entitled to reject the way the Australian Labor Party constantly puts people into ethnic, you know, that’s what they’re trying to do to people,” Mr Abbott said.

Mr Abbott’s comments come after Prime Minister John Howard described the Muslim burqa as confronting and Treasurer Peter Costello said radical Muslims should move to another country if they wanted to live under sharia law.