Under-fire Australian Prime Minister claims it was “fair” to describe Britain’s colonization of the country as a foreign invasion.
Malcolm Turnbull made the controversial remarks as he awkwardly tried to repair his flagging relationship with Aboriginal Australians.
The Prime Minister said the country was in the midst of a “reconciliation” with Aboriginal communities.
However, critics have said the invasion statement was shameless pandering in the run-up to an election in just a few weeks.
He said: “Well, I think it can be fairly described as that and I’ve got no doubt obviously our first Aboriginal Australians describe it as an invasion.
“The facts are very well known. This country was Aboriginal land. It was occupied by Aboriginal people for tens of thousands of years – 40,000 years.
“So this was, is and always will be Aboriginal land.”
The furore over Britain’s colonisation comes as Mr Turnbull desperately tries to catch up in election polls ahead of the July 2 national vote.
The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, had earlier claimed he would a sign a treaty with Indigenous Australians, piling pressure on Mr Turnbull.
The Prime Minister, in turn, said there needed to be “practical reconciliation” between the government and Indigenous people but distanced himself from treaty talks.
He explained that a treaty “adds a level of uncertainty that puts at risk the constitutional recognition process”.
He said a treaty could jeopardise the referendum on Aboriginal rights next year.
The government has signalled it will hold a referendum on constitutional recognition of indigenous people in 2017.
Mr Shorten, however, accused the prime minister of not listening to what indigenous people want, calling his remarks “complete rubbish” and saying both symbolic and practical recognition were important.
“There is a level of cynicism amongst parts of the Australian community that somehow constitutional reform in and of itself will deliver all the other outcomes.”
He said: “The fact that your skin colour is a more likely predictor in Australia of whether or not you will get a custodial sentence is unacceptable.
“For too long there’s been the wars between should you have symbolic recognition or practical reconciliation. I think both are important.”