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‘Racist’ cartoon stokes debate over treatment of Indigenous Australians

A newspaper cartoon widely criticised as racist has heightened a debate about Australia’s treatment of its Indigenous people, amid ongoing fallout from the publication of footage showing the alleged abuse of Aboriginal children at a detention centre.

On Friday, veteran cartoonist Bill Leak defended his sketch in the Australian newspaper of a drunk Aboriginal father forgetting his son’s name, after Australia’s Indigenous affairs minister, Nigel Scullion, said he was appalled by the cartoon’s racist stereotypes.

Advertisers including SunCorp Bank and the Adelaide festival have cancelled or are reviewing ads in the newspaper, and the Australian Press Council said it was investigating complaints made by the public.

Footage published in late July of the use of teargas, spit hoods and restraints at a detention centre for young people – mostly Aboriginal children – shocked Australians and drew international condemnation.

Leak referenced the detention centre in his response to criticism of the cartoon, writing: “I was trying to say that if you think things are pretty crook for the children locked up in the Northern Territory’s Don Dale youth detention centre, you should have a look at the homes they came from. Then you might understand why so many of them finished up there.”

He said his critics were like toddlers who were suffering from “chronic truth aversion disorder” when all he was doing was trying to tell the uncomfortable truth.

The Australian’s editor-in-chief, Paul Whittaker, has stood by the publication of the cartoon, citing columns by the high-profile Indigenous Australians Marcia Langton and Noel Pearson. But Langton said she was not comfortable being used to defend the cartoon, telling Guardian Australia: “[Leak] has crossed a line by stereotyping all Aboriginal dads as losers. This is wrong.”

— some media guy (@axmcc)
August 3, 2016

Australians get offended when people say we’re racist, but can you imagine this appearing in a US or UK newspaper? pic.twitter.com/6KzOJMaiVv

— Rohan Connolly (@rohan_connolly)
August 3, 2016

That racist cartoon by Bill Leak in The Australian would have caused outcry 30yrs ago. How it’s published in major outlet now beyond belief.

— Richard Di Natale (@RichardDiNatale)
August 5, 2016

The Oz defends Bill Leak cartoon as “insightful.” There’s nothing insightful about racism. Make a complaint: https://t.co/ALYayFsxr9

— Paul Bongiorno (@PaulBongiorno)
August 4, 2016

Beating up on victims the favourite sport of the privileged who also see themselves as victims: Bill Leak today. Pathetic.

— Kon Karapanagiotidis (@Kon__K)
August 4, 2016

If #Aboriginal people tell you they find #BillLeak cartoon hurtful, racist & shameful who the hell has the right to tell them otherwise?

Scullion said the cartoon was particularly tasteless given it was published on National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day.

“Although Australian cartoonists have a rich tradition of irreverent satire, there is absolutely no place for depicting racist stereotypes,” he said late on Thursday. “I would urge the Australian to be more aware of the impact cartoons like the one published today can have on Indigenous communities.”

He also called on Leak to reflect on a campaign by the charity BeyondBlue that has highlighted the impact of racism on the mental health of Indigenous Australians.

SunCorp Bank said it “definitely [does] not support the cartoon” and Adelaide festival said it “deplores all forms of racism and editorial commentary that vilifies Australia’s First Nations people”.

On Friday, an editorial in the Australian stood by Leak’s cartoon and said that family failure was the root cause of much “Indigenous misery”. A new Leak cartoon also portrayed himself as the victim for “telling the truth”.

— Dave Earley (@earleyedition)
August 4, 2016

Friday’s Bill Leak. So he thinks his racist cartoon yesterday was true and, worse, *funny* https://t.co/A5sI8N6xDt pic.twitter.com/PCPYqb0Luu

In his article, Leak said: “Before the howls of outrage and accusations of racism that were directed at me started filtering through into my Twitter-free world yesterday, I received an email from Anthony Dillon – whose father, Colin, was Australia’s first Aboriginal policeman and whose evidence was pivotal to the Fitzgerald inquiry into police corruption in Queensland – congratulating me on the cartoon.

“In it, Dillon included a message he’d written to his father, in which he said: ‘Have a look at Bill’s latest cartoon. Half of me was crying and the other half was laughing. He has an incredible talent that enables him to blend humour and tragedy without losing the seriousness of the situation.’”

Some agreed with the cartoonist and praised him for his apparent honesty.

— Vikki #DELCON (@Scruffbucket)
August 5, 2016

Bill Leak does’nt have ALL of twitter against him, there are heaps of us who back him to the hilt for his honesty #viewpoint

This is not the first time Leak has come under fire, after he was criticised in December for a cartoon depicting starving Indians chopping up and eating solar panels, provoking anger at home and abroad.

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