Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister Marlene Kairouz has issued an apology for comments which have been dubbed “bigoted” and “disgraceful”.
She was speaking at the launch of a campaign against dodgy tradies when she linked people with Irish accents to scammers:
“If anybody knocks on your door that has an Irish accent, automatically ask them to leave.”
The comments were broadcast on Channel 9 News Melbourne.
Kairouz said scammers: “know where to go, who to target, as soon as they get cash in their hands, they’re gone.”
Her comments were met with swift backlash online.
“You are an absolute disgrace,” James Duffy wrote on Facebook. “I'm an Irish backpacker in Australia the last 2 years, of which I spent 6 months working as a locksmith in Melbourne.
“Daily, I had to knock on elderly peoples doors to assist them with their issues. Can you begin to imagine the impact that an uneducated comment like this on national TV would have?
A public apology on TV would be a start but nothing you do now can change the damage you have done by tarnishing all Irish with the same brush.”
Another commenter, Liam Burke, wrote:
“What an absurdly racist comment. Would it not have made more sense to warn people to avoid unsolicited and unqualified tradespeople, rather than suggesting these criminals are a specific ethnicity.
"The Irish in Victoria were recently acknowledged as the highest earning immigrant group.
"Are you going to apply the same prejudicial logic to the thousands of doctors, nurses, and teachers who keep Victoria going? If so, the state would grind to a halt.”
The backlash was so severe that the Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister issued an apology on Twitter, writing:
“Yesterday I made a comment at a scam awareness campaign launch that caused offence to people with Irish heritage. Recent scammers have been backpackers from the UK & Ireland & I was giving this info to the public. I admit I delivered this msg poorly. I sincerely apologise for causing offence and my poor choice of words.”
But the story has now made headline all around Ireland and the UK.
The Australian Embassy in Ireland issued the following statement: “Over more than two centuries, people of Irish birth and heritage have made a hugely positive contribution to Australia, and continue to do so.
“This was publicly acknowledged recently by the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, who told [Irish] President [Michael] Higgins in Canberra: ‘The warmth of the history and the family ties between Australia and Ireland couldn’t be greater. Australia is the most Irish country in the world, (apart from Ireland, of course)…’”