Laura Tingle ‘counselled’ by bosses as she doubles down on racist Australia comments

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Sarah Blake
The Nightly
4 Min Read
ABC journalist Laura Tingle has released a statement after sparking furore when she declared Australia was a ‘racist’ country.
ABC journalist Laura Tingle has released a statement after sparking furore when she declared Australia was a ‘racist’ country. Credit: Lukas Coch/AAPIMAGE

The ABC’s star chief political correspondent has stood by her claim that Australia is a racist country as it was revealed she has been counselled by the broadcaster’s news director over her controversial attack on Opposition Leader Peter Dutton over the weekend.

The national broadcaster released two statements Wednesday afternoon in response to the roiling controversy about Laura Tingle’s comments at the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

Tingle said on Wednesday, “I wasn’t saying every Australian is a racist. But we clearly have an issue with racism”.

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ABC News director Justin Stevens said that while the comments “lacked the context, balance and supporting information of her work for the ABC and would not have met the ABC’s editorial standards” he supported Tingle’s record as “one of Australia’s most experienced, knowledgeable and accomplished journalists”.

“Although the remarks were conversational, and not made in her work capacity, the ABC and its employees have unique obligations in the Australian media,” he said.

“The ABC’s editorial standards serve a vital role. Laura has been reminded of their application at external events as well as in her work and I have counselled her over the remarks.

“The ABC strongly believes hearing informed and independent voices is valuable to our society.”

In her own lengthy statement, Tingle again repeated her criticism of Mr Dutton’s Budget reply speech linking migration to the housing crisis, which she said had implied “everything that is going wrong in this country is because of migrants”.

“We are a racist country, let’s face it,” Tingle said on Sunday in comments which drew broad criticism.

“We always have been and it’s very depressing.”

On Wednesday, Tingle sought to contextualise her criticism of Mr Dutton.

“At the Writers’ Festival I was asked to comment on the Opposition Leader’s policy on migration and the economy, including housing. Mr Dutton has been vocal on this topic, particularly over the past fortnight,” she wrote.

“As the alternative Prime Minister, with an election approaching within a year, Mr Dutton’s comments deserve rigorous scrutiny and examination.

“I have also pointed out that there were flaws in the Opposition’s position as a piece of viable policy. That is, while on the face of it an obvious answer to a shortage of housing might be to immediately try to cut the number of people seeking it – and the obvious answer there is migrants – things are actually a lot more complicated when you try to do that.”

Tingle said that “discussions at writers’ festivals are much less formal and more free-flowing than a piece of analysis on an ABC platform and this was a format where adding detailed context to the discussion wasn’t really possible”.

“I did indeed make the observation on Sunday that we are a racist country, in the context of a discussion about the political prospects ahead,” she continued.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton (file)
Laura Tingle’s take on Peter Dutton has drawn fierce criticism. Credit: AAP

“I wasn’t saying every Australian is a racist. But we clearly have an issue with racism. For some months now, for example, The Australian newspaper has been devoting considerable space to its alarm about a rise in anti-Semitism in Australia.

“Without even going into the historic record, there is also ample evidence that racism remains a particular problem in our legal and policing systems. A coronial inquest underway in the Northern Territory has become mired in an expose of racism in the NT’s elite policing unit. Racism and racial profiling repeatedly show up as an issue of concern in our policing and justice systems.

“The morning radio news bulletins on the ABC on Monday featured several stories that were related to racism, including one about racial profiling of young South Sudanese men in a police presentation to legal practitioners in Melbourne.

“Surveys, including by the ABC, have repeatedly found the majority of Australians of non-European backgrounds reporting experiences of discrimination and racism in their lives, sometimes starting as early as primary school.

“Is it relevant to raise this record of Australian racism in political analysis? Absolutely, if it becomes an issue of controversy in our political contest – as it clearly did when Pauline Hanson appeared on the national stage in 1996 and declared the country was being “swamped with Asians”. John Howard had similarly flirted with the issue of Asian immigration in the 1980s and Julia Gillard did too in 2013 when she used a speech on a visit to western Sydney to announce a clampdown on the issue of temporary skilled worker visas.

“In my commentary at the ABC, and at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, I expressed my concern at the risks involved in Peter Dutton pressing the hot button of housing and linking it to migration for these reasons.”

Tingle said the commentary had “real world implications for many Australians” and that she regretted her words had given rise to attacks on the ABC.

“This has created the opportunity for yet another anti-ABC pile-on,” she said.

“This is not helpful to me or to the ABC. Or to the national debate

“I am proud of my work as a journalist at the ABC, on all its platforms, and I let that work speak for itself.

“It is based, always, on solid research and a lifetime of experience reporting on Australian politics.

“That work is built on, and delivered in, the framework of the ABC’s very high editorial standards.”

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