Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has apologised for comments about Pacific islanders being able to survive the ravages of climate change by taking fruit-picking jobs in Australia.
Mr McCormack made the comments last Friday as he sought to dismiss criticism levelled at Prime Minister Scott Morrison following the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), at which leaders claimed Australia was ignoring the threat climate change posed to the survival of vulnerable low-lying island nations.
“[I] get a little bit annoyed when we have people in those sorts of countries pointing the finger at Australia and say we should be shutting down all our resources sector so that they will continue to survive,” he said.
“They will continue to survive, there’s no question they will continue to survive, and they will continue to survive with large aid assistance from Australia.
“They will continue to survive because many of their workers come here and pick our fruit.”
On Thursday he apologised.
“Well look, if any insult was taken, I sincerely apologise,” he said.
The Nationals leader said his comments were simply an effort to highlight the importance of Pacific islanders to Australia’s seasonal labour scheme.
“I come from an electorate where there’s a strong horticultural section, for which couldn’t operate without the labour force that’s provided by the Pacific islands.”
“The fact is we’ll always be great friends of the Pacific islands, and certainly, we rely on the Pacific islands, we rely on them, largely.”
‘Appropriate from a drunk in a bar, not from a leader’
The PIF meeting in Tuvalu saw Mr Morrison pressure fellow leaders to water down the PIF’s final declaration, removing references to cutting carbon emissions by phasing out coal.
Former president of Kiribati Anote Tong said he could not understand how Mr McCormack thought it was a smart comment to make.
“If you’re drunk, and in a bar, it would be an appropriate place and time to make the comment. But if you’re speaking as a leader, really it is not appropriate,” he said.
Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, who hosted the Pacific Islands Forum, said the comments made Pacific Islanders sound like “paupers” who were begging for Australian support.