Prime Minister Scott Morrison has dismissed a resurfaced 2011 report claiming he once suggested using Australia‘s anti-Muslim sentiment as a political tool, calling the claim “a disgraceful smear and an appalling lie”.
Appearing on ABC News Breakfast this morning, Morrison said the piece, originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald but recirculated by outlets including Channel 10‘s The Project in the aftermath of Friday’s terror attack in Christchurch, was wholly inaccurate.
On suggestions his office had considered defamation action against The Project for referencing the SMH piece, Morrison said “I have no intention of doing that, I just simply want people to report the truth.
“And that is an ugly and disgusting lie, and I reject it absolutely.”
.@mjrowland68: “Did you, in a shadow cabinet meeting in 2010, urge the Coalition to capitalise on anti-Muslim sentiment for political purposes?”@ScottMorrisonMP: “Absolutely not. It is a disgraceful smear and an appalling lie.” #auspol pic.twitter.com/MJ5CtBSPhS
— News Breakfast (@BreakfastNews) March 19, 2019
The piece, penned by journalist Lenore Taylor, alleges that in his role as immigration spokesperson for one-time Coalition leader Tony Abbott, Morrison used a 2010 shadow cabinet meeting to ask if the party had considered capitalising on anti-Muslim sentiment for votes.
The report claims that push was quickly shot down by other senior Liberal Party figures, including then-deputy leader Julie Bishop.
In a subsequent piece in the SMH, Peter Hartcher cited an unnamed Liberal shadow cabinet figure who told him Morrison “put it on the table like a dead cat.”
Morrison has denied the claims since the publication of the first piece, and numerous Liberal figures have claimed Morrison did not seek to exploit those sentiments, but Taylor has vouched for her report’s authenticity. Speaking to the SMH on Sunday, Taylor said the unnamed sources in her piece “have always stuck by what they told me”.
The furore surrounding the resurfaced article comes amid a broader debate on the Australian political establishment’s potential complicity in fostering anti-Muslim sentiment.
Morrison, who served as Immigration Minister under Prime Minister Tony Abbott, was instrumental in leading Operation Sovereign Borders – a series of policies which have left asylum seekers, many of whom come from majority-Muslim nations, languishing in offshore detention.
Morrison drew further condemnation when it was revealed he kept a metal model boat engraved with the phrase “I stopped these” as a trophy on his desk.
The Prime Minister also drew criticism from the Australian National Imams Council for his response to last November’s attack in Melbourne’s Bourke Street, which left popular cafe owner Sisto Malaspina dead.
After that attack, Morrison said “we would be kidding ourselves if we did not call out the fact that the greatest threat of religious extremism in this country is the radical and dangerous ideology of extremist Islam.”
“It is extremely disappointing in such difficult times and during a national tragedy, when all Australians of all faiths and backgrounds should be called upon to unite and stand together against any form of extremism and violence, to see our nation’s leader politicising this incident and using it for political gain,” the Council said in response.