Answering a question at a conference of The Australian-Melbourne Institute about the value of foreign investment in real estate and its role in economic growth, Mr Abbott stated that Australia was ‘unsettled’ before the arrival of the British.
He continued, “I guess our country owes its existence to a form of foreign investment by the British government in the then unsettled or, um, scarcely settled, Great South Land.”
In response to these statements Abbott’s chief indigenous adviser reacted by calling the prime minister’s statement ‘silly’.
Chairman of the prime minister’s indigenous advisory council, Warren Mundine, was in the audience of the same Melbourne conference on Thursday night and raised his eyebrows at Abbott’s statement saying it was, ”a silly thing to say.”
”I just thought it was a bizarre comment,” added Mundine.
Labor Senator Nova Peris, the first indigenous woman to be elected to federal parliament, also reacted to Mr Abbott’s comments with criticism. She said the prime minister’s comments had set back efforts to recognise the first Australians and were, ”highly offensive, dismissive of indigenous peoples and simply incorrect”.
”British settlement was not foreign investment. It was occupation,” stated Senator Peris.
She added that Australians should celebrate ”50,000 years of our nation’s history, not just the last 226 years.”
”If I was him [Mr Abbott] I would have said that the nation was built on foreign investment since 1788 and left it there. We all know Australia was full of people living here when the British arrived,” said Mundine.
Professor Megan Davis, director of the Indigenous Law Centre at the University of NSW said, ”I am not sure ‘colonialism’ is an appropriate analogy for ‘foreign investment’ nor is ‘foreign investment’ the most correct way to describe the motives of the British government in 1788,” adding that these comments were unfortunate and insensitive.