On Thursday night, Prime Minister Scott Morrison appeared on Channel Ten's The Project for an interview with host Waleed Aly. The 30-minute chat was the end to what had been several days of tension, which started when Aly shared an impassioned monologue on Friday night's show in the wake of the Christchurch shootings.
In the monologue, Aly stated that in 2010, Morrison suggested that fellow Coalition party members capitalise on anti-Muslim sentiment to win votes. The claims were first made in a report by the Sydney Morning Herald in 2011, based off sources who were in the room at the time. Others who were also present, deny Morrison made the comments, as does Morrison himself.
In the wake of Aly's comments, Morrison's office threatened to sue. Instead of those drastic actions, Morrison came to The Project to have an open chat with Aly about what had transpired in the past week. The exchange was uncomfortable, heated and showed just how divided Australia are on this issue.
The interview started with Aly asking Morrison the question, "Does the Liberal Party have a problem with Islamophobia?" In the first thirteen minutes of the interview, Aly asked that exact question a total of six times. Morrison subsequently tiptoed, not giving an answer any of the times he was asked, despite being given a list of examples that suggested the Liberal Party had a background of Islamophobic tendencies.
Morrison began his attempted answer by giving a personal story to say he "led by example", before quickly jumping to the defence of Peter Dutton who had made controversial comments about Lebanese immigration "being a mistake". The Prime Minister then became visibly frustrated when Aly was forced to ask the question for the sixth time.
“Do we want to get bogged down in this?" Morrison shot back. "Or do we want to move on and make things better?” The body language of Morrison alone was enough to make the interview tense, but his continuous lack of an answer was overbearingly divisive.
Aly pointedly responded, “talking about the past is important because the only way you can move forward and reset at a moment like this, is to acknowledge things that have happened in the past that are a problem and need fixing.”
Shockingly, Morrison turned the conversation to Waleed's impassioned monologue the previous week. The PM suggested that Aly was "emotional", and described his incredibly composed and powerful piece as "a bit over the top."
You can't help but draw comparisons to Prime Minister Ardern, who when faced with those that had been affected by the shootings, seemingly took on their grief, confusion and fear as her own. As a united country feeling the same way, over the terrifying event that had happened to all of them.
The Prime Minister then strongly criticised the 2011 report that had accused Morrison of exploiting the Islam community to gain votes.
The PM told Aly, "You implied that Muslims couldn't feel safe because they had a Prime Minister who somehow had been prejudiced against them and I don't believe that's true, and I don't think you believe that's true either," Mr Morrison said.
Aly asserted his comments about exploiting concerns were based on reports by multiple reporters, based on multiple sources, with one willing to go on the record. "No, that is not true," Mr Morrison responded. "What is suggested is that I said that we should exploit concerns about Islam in the community to our advantage. I was concerned that we needed to address them, which is what I have been doing inside and outside of the Parliament for the last 10 years of my life."
"I was acknowledging that there were these fears in the community and that we had to address them, not exploit them."
The two went on to discuss Nauru, without Morrison ever answering Aly's initial question.
In a time when Australia should be uniting to support those that no longer feel safe in their place of worship, or as members of the Australian community, our leadership continues to cause division.
The debate continued on Twitter.