A political cartoon portraying an Aboriginal man with a beer can and not remembering his son’s name is an “attack” on Indigenous Australians, a community leader says.

The cartoon by Bill Leak was published by The Australian newspaper on Thursday, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day.

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The Australian’s editor-in-chief Paul Whittaker defended the paper’s decision to publish the “confronting” cartoon.

He cited comments made by Indigenous leaders this week, including Noel Pearson on Lateline who said: “Blackfellas have got to take charge and take responsibility for their own children. That part of the message really struggles to get traction.”

“The Australian is proud of its long-standing and detailed contribution to our national debate over the crucial issues in Indigenous affairs,” Whittaker said in a statement.

“The current controversy over juvenile detention in the Northern Territory has lifted these matters to the forefront of national attention again.

“Too often, too many people skirt around the root causes and tough issues. But not everyone. Bill Leak’s confronting and insightful cartoons force people to examine the core issues in a way that sometimes reporting and analysis can fail to do.”

The NSW Aboriginal Land Council said the cartoon was racist and has filed a complaint with the Australian Press Council.

“It was absolutely disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful. I can’t believe The Australian, a national newspaper, would be so insulting to us as Aboriginal people,” the council’s chairman Roy Ah-See said.

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Cartoon

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