Victoria’s Consumer Affairs Minister Marlene Kairouz has been forced to apologise after she was accused of racism for suggesting people with Irish accents were untrustworthy.
During a Monday press conference to launch a scam awareness campaign, Ms Kairouz told the public: “If anybody knocks on your door that has an Irish accent, automatically ask them to leave.”
The comment aired on Channel Nine news on Tuesday night, prompting an outpouring of anger on social media, with many labelling Ms Kairouz racist.
The Minister took to Twitter on Tuesday to apologise for the remark, which has since made news headlines around the world – especially in Ireland.
“Yesterday I made a comment at a scam awareness campaign launch that caused offence to people with Irish heritage,” she tweeted.
“Recent scammers have been backpackers from the UK & Ireland & I was giving this info to the public. I admit I delivered this msg poorly.
“I sincerely apologise for causing offence and my poor choice of words.”
Nine aired footage of Ms Kairouz’s speech as part of its story on 79-year-old Thelma, who had paid tradesmen thousands of dollars to fix a leaking roof, only to have them disappear with her money without properly fixing the problem.
“Thelma claims the men who ripped her off had Irish accents, which is a common feature of a lot of these scams,” Nine reporter Brett McLeod explained.
Responding to Ms Kairouz’s warning, which Mr McLeod described as “very, very broad”, members of Australia’s Irish community deemed it “slander” on Facebook.
“Minister, I am an Irish Community Nurse who knocks on many doors every day to provide care for people of all nationalities in this beautiful country. Shame on you for your ignorance and sweeping statement,” one user said.
Another said: “I’m an Irish backpacker in Australia the last two years, of which I spent six months working as a locksmith in Melbourne.
“Daily, I had to knock on elderly peoples doors to assist them with their issues. Can you begin to imagine the impact that an uneducated comment like this on national TV would have?”
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The Australian Embassy in Ireland attempted to calm the situation by issuing a statement about Australia and Ireland’s “warm and friendly relationship”.
“The Australian Embassy is aware of comments by the Hon Marlene Kairouz MP, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation in the Government of Victoria, that have been widely reported in the Irish media today.
“The Embassy notes that Minister Kairouz has subsequently issued a statement on Twitter, acknowledging that her words had been poorly chosen, and apologising for the offence caused by her comments.
“The best way to sum up the attitudes of the Australian people towards the Irish is again to quote the Prime Minister: ‘You’re so warmly welcomed. You’re among friends and among family’.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews defended his minister, arguing she simply “misspoke”.
“[She] didn’t mean any offence and has apologised accordingly,” he said. “That would be, from my point of view, the end of the matter.”