A clearly frustrated Scott Morrison has gone head to head with Waleed Aly in a heated live interview on The Project.
It came after Aly repeated the claim that Morrison encouraged the Coalition in 2011 to use community concerns about Muslims to gain votes — an allegation that the prime minister has called “a disgraceful smear and an appalling lie”.
During the heated debate, Aly asked the prime minister if Australia has an Islamophobia problem.
“I don’t know if Australia understands Islam very well, and that can often lead to fear of things you don’t understand. That doesn’t always translate into extremism,” Morrison replied.
Morrison was also pressed on whether the Coalition had a problem with Islamophobia.
“No I don’t believe the Liberal party does… I can’t speak for the National party,” he said.
“Our party is made up of a lot of individuals and in our party, individuals have a lot more freedom to say what they thin than a lot of other parties. And it is not for the party to answer for every single member on every single occasion.”
Morrison, in turn, accused Aly — who on Friday gave an impassioned and emotional monologue following the Christchurch terror attack that killed 50 people — of implying that “Muslims couldn’t feel safe because they had a PM who had somehow been prejudiced against them”.
Aly replied, saying: “That wasn’t the implication that I was making.”
In reports dating back to 2011, unnamed sources said Morrison had encouraged his Liberal colleagues in a shadow cabinet meeting to make the most of community concerns about Muslim migration.
“You called it a smear and a lie,” Aly said. “Who’s lying?”
Morrison responded: “I can only say anyone who may have told the journalist the smear in that way. There were a number of people in that meeting who have gone on the record to support that that didn’t happen.”
Morrison said he did discuss Muslim immigration in that shadow cabinet meeting, but said his contribution was about lowering community fears.
“I was the shadow immigration minister at the time and I was very concerned about these issues and the way people were feeling in the community,” he said. “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.”