Peter Dutton defends comparing pro-Palestine protest and Port Arthur massacre responses

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Peter Dutton has refused to walk back his comparison of the response to the Port Arthur massacre to a pro-Palestine protest at the Sydney Opera House.

The Opposition Leader sparked fierce criticism for the remarks he made during a speech on Wednesday night, warning about the rise in antisemitism.

He compared the 9 October pro-Palestine protests outside the Sydney Opera House last year to the Port Arthur massacre, which prompted then-prime minister John Howard to reform Australia’s gun laws.

Thirty five people were killed and 23 others were wounded in the mass shooting in 1996.

He later repeated the comments, insisting Mr Howard’s response had been “strong” and claimed Mr Albanese did not rise to the moment.

On Friday, Mr Dutton fronted up on the Today show where he again defended the remarks when asked if he went too far.

“The point I was making, which is absolutely a legitimate one, is that I thought this was a time for the Prime Minister (Anthony Albanese) to show leadership and to step up,” Mr Dutton said.

“I think, with John Howard, who stood up at a point of national importance for our country, demonstrated leadership and changed the course of history for the better. The Prime Minister has allowed this rise of anti-Semitism in our country.”

Mr Dutton’s fury was sparked by comments made by the Foreign Minister Penny Wong in her own speech earlier this week, which left the door open for Australia to back Palestinian statehood in the UN.

“Penny Wong never went to cabinet with this proposal. It’s not agreed to by the Palestinian leaders here in Australia,” he said.

Government Services Minister Bill Shorten argued there was nothing new in Senator Wong’s comments.

“Labor has had as its policy for a very long time, the whole time I’ve been a member of the Labor Party, support for a two state solution,” he told Nine.

But he said it was possible to call out the “unacceptable” rise in antisemitism and not conflate it with Port Arthur.

“I think probably if he had his time again in the privacy of his own head, he would probably not do (that),” Mr Shorten said.

“They’re two separate issues. Port Arthur was a shocking, murderous, evil act in Australia. And John Howard certainly spoke up about it.

“I think Peter, you know, has got to make his point. That’s his job. But I think he should work with the Prime Minister to call out inflammatory language here.”

Mr Dutton clarified he was just trying to make a parallel between the two leaders’ responses.

“John Howard stood up for our country at a time when he needed moral clarity. He did that he changed the course of history with gun laws,” he said.

“That’s the parallel that I’m making to the absolute absence of leadership from the Prime Minister at the moment, which has given rise to those in the Jewish community talking about feeling unsafe in our country.”

Mr Dutton’s comments were rebuked by Liberal MP Bridget Archer, who represents the Tasmanian seat of Bass, told the Guardian his comparison was “wholly inappropriate”.

When asked about the internal criticism, Mr Dutton responded: “Oh … by one backbencher whom I respect but has a different view on many issues and that’s fine.”

Labor’s Brian Mitchell, whose electorate of Lyons includes Port Arthur, also condemned Mr Dutton’s speech.

“I would ask Peter Dutton to reflect on that and refrain from making such divisive and inflammatory comments using the tragedy in our community,” he said.

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