CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s acting prime minister on Tuesday defended his comments comparing the attack on the U.S. Capitol building with Black Lives Matter protests despite criticism from Indigenous and human rights groups.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who is acting as the conservative government’s leader while Prime Minister Scott Morrison is on vacation, has come under widespread criticism since Monday, when he described last week’s insurrection on Capitol Hill that claimed five lives as “similar to those race riots that we saw around the country last year.”
McCormack, who leads the rural-based The Nationals junior coalition partners, used several television and radio interviews on Tuesday to reject calls for an apology over his comparison.
He said the Black Lives Matter protests last year had claimed 19 lives across the United States.
“Amnesty International and others — and I appreciate there are a lot of people out there who are being a bit bleeding-heart about this and who are confecting outrage — but they should know those lives matter too,” McCormack told reporters. “All lives matter. People shouldn’t have to go to a protest and lose their life.”
Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous Rights Lead, Nolan Hunter, said McCormack was “continuing to show his ignorance about what Black Lives Matter means and how it affects our mob right here in Australia.”
“Ignorance of the issues that affect Indigenous people in Australia is why we are behind the rest of the world and lock up little children as young as 10 (and) why Indigenous children are 27 times more likely to end up in prison than their non-Indigenous peers,” Hunter said in a statement Tuesday.
“Instead of backing up President Trump, the acting prime minister should be backing up Indigenous people in his own country and take the lead in addressing these issues,” Hunter added.
The Aboriginal Legal Service of New South Wales state tweeted, “It’s a disappointment (to say the least) to see the Acting P.M. mischaracterise our fight for justice as ‘race riots.’”
“Our demand that Black lives be valued and defended against state-sanctioned violence is in no way comparable to attempts to violently overthrow an election,” it added.
Senior opposition lawmaker Chris Bowen also demanded that McCormack apologize for his comments.
“Those people around the world who engaged in peaceful protest in the Black Lives Matter movement deserve better than to have the acting … prime minister compare their actions to the violence and thuggery that we saw at the U.S. Capitol last week,” Bowen told reporters. “Australians of colour deserve to know their government thinks more of them than that.”
“To have the acting prime minister spout the words ‘all lives matter’ to diminish the Black Lives Matter movement was beyond disgusting,” he added.
Rod McGuirk, The Associated Press