Olympic gold medal winner Cathy Freeman has become the latest high-profile critic of Scott Morrison following the prime minister’s comments about Cricket Australia’s initiative to make matches around the date of 26 January more inclusive.
Morrison on Thursday criticised the decision by some Big Bash League clubs to follow CA guidance and drop references to “Australia Day” from promotional material for upcoming matches in a bid to create a safer and more inclusive environment for fans.
The day, referred to as “Invasion Day” by many Indigenous people and others, will instead be referred to by some clubs simply as 26 January.
Morrison said the push by CA was “pretty ordinary” and claimed the date in 1788 “wasn’t a particularly flash day for the people on those [first fleet] vessels either”.
Freeman, who famously won Olympic gold at the 2000 Games in Sydney and is a prominent Indigenous rights campaigner, rebuked the prime minister’s comments.
“You can’t compare the experiences of those 12 ships that first arrived to this country to what their arrival meant for all generations of Australia’s First Nations people!” Freeman tweeted on Friday.
Freeman, named Australian of the year in 1998, memorably carried both Australian and Aboriginal flags on her victory lap around the Olympic Stadium, in a symbol of reconciliation and pride in her Indigenous heritage.
Morrison, when asked whether he had meant to draw parallels between what Indigenous people suffered as a result of European settlement in 1788 and the experiences of those on the first fleet, said “it was false to take that equivocation”.
“I’ll simply say this: Australia is more than 25m stories; more than 25m. Each of us can trace our stories back into our own Australia, Indigenous Australia, First Nations Australia. All the stories are important. All stories should be respected.
“On Australia Day it is important to do that – understanding the loss, the gains, the successes, the failures, the hardships that were encountered. Australian stories are unique in this country.
“But the thing they celebrate most about Australians, despite the hardship, whether that be that of dispossession and the terrible destruction faced by the First Nations or whether it was the convicts who came, all those stories are important.
“They’re not competing with each other. They’re just part of who we are.”
Morrison used a press conference on Thursday to tell Cricket Australia there should be “a bit more focus on cricket and a little less focus on politics” after the plan was revealed.
The move comes following consultation with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cricket Advisory Committee, and some matches between 23 and 26 January will feature a barefoot circle, welcome to country and a smoking ceremony.
Players from clubs involved in the initiative – Sydney Thunder, Sydney Sixers, Perth Scorchers and Melbourne Renegades – will also wear special Indigenous-themed kits.
Morrison’s comments sparked a backlash from critics, including the former prime minister Kevin Rudd, who branded him “gutless” for his stance.