Peter Dutton made a direct apology to his Labor opponent Ali France during a live debate this week for accusing her of using her disability as “an excuse” for living outside of the electorate.
The candidate for the marginal seat of Dickson had previously told The Australian that while she isn’t currently living in the electorate, she has been searching for a house and has unfortunately been unable to find a place with easy access for her wheelchair.
However, Dutton didn’t accept her response, claiming her reasoning was simply “an excuse”.
Just days later, sitting next to his opponent for a debate in the lead up to the election, Dutton repeated an earlier apology, claiming he could have approached the topic in a different way.
“I could have done it in a more sensitive way. But we all make mistakes, I made a mistake, and I apologise,” Nine News reports he told ABC Radio Brisbane.
France thanked her Liberal opponent for his apology, taking the opportunity to send a message to those around the country with a disability.
The former journalist, who sadly had her leg amputated following a shocking car accident in 2011, claimed in no way were people with disabilities looking for “special treatment”.
“Your disability is not an excuse, it is our reality,” France reportedly said during the discussion.
“We don’t want pity. We don’t want special treatment. But what we do expect – particularly from leaders – is that they have an understanding.”
Dutton received a lot of criticism from the Labor Party following his initial comments about France’s disability, including leader Bill Shorten who called for an official apology.
According to SBS, he said: “What we have here is Mr Dutton has insulted every Australian with a disability, and Mr Morrison has said, ‘That’s OK’.”
Elsewhere, Tanya Plibersek claimed Dutton doesn’t even reside in Dickson the majority of the time. Speaking on ABC Melbourne on Friday morning, the politician pointed an accusing finger at the Liberal politician, questioning who would say such a thing.
“Now this is from the bloke, by the way, who owns, I think at last report, it was nine homes, and spends most of his time in his Gold Coast mansion, actually tried to move seats from Dickson to a safe Gold Coast seat because he didn’t want to represent the people of Dickson, attacking a woman who spends her working life as a journalist, working for palliative care, just a fantastic human being,” The Guardian reports she said on the program.
“She actually lost her leg protecting her kids in a carpark accident, and he’s using this against her. I mean, what kind of person does this?”
Following the backlash, a spokesperson for Dutton clarified his comments, claiming he was simply repeating the views that had been raised to him.
“Minister Dutton was repeating the views and concerns about the Labor candidate, raised with him by constituents – that is that she doesn’t live in the electorate and has told people locally that even if she wins the seat she won’t move into the electorate,” they said.
“Dickson constituents believe Ms France’s refusal to live in the electorate, even if she won the seat, is more about her enjoying the inner city lifestyle, as opposed to her inability to find a house anywhere in the electorate.”