A rare moment of campaign unity over racism in Australia was short-lived.
Both the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader put their intense rivalry to the side on Saturday to walk alongside AFL great Michael Long for Indigenous reconciliation, with Mr Turnbull and Mr Shorten in clear agreement that racism is still a major problem in Australia.
Mr Shorten and Mr Turnbull’s participation in the walk preceding the AFL Dreamtime game between Essendon and Richmond, however, was overshadowed by comments from Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and the breakout of ugly, race-related violence in Melbourne.
Mr Shorten had kicked off the conversation by calling out the “insidious nature of stubborn racism” and saying there were pockets of systemic racism still alive in Australian life.
In a speech for National Reconciliation Week in Melbourne Friday night, Mr Shorten spoke of the need for mutual respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and the need for common ground to be found on the issues of colonisation and settlement.
He argued those were among the hurdles holding the nation back.
“The insidious nature of stubborn racism is still a reality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals regardless of the status and stature they achieve in our society,” Mr Shorten said.
“Every generation of Aboriginal athlete, from Doug Nicholls to Nicky Winmar to Michael Long to Adam Goodes has known this.”
On Friday, Mr Turnbull visited an Indigenous business in Brisbane to focus on growing such enterprises.
The PM agreed there was room to do better, telling reporters, “If you talk about Australia as a whole, are we free entirely from racism? Clearly not.”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann broke ranks with the atmosphere of solidarity, calling Mr Shorten’s assessment a “very negative view”.
“To make a blanket statement like that is very disappointing,” he told reporters in Canberra on Saturday.
Mr Shorten had said “racism is not true of most Australians”.
“I’m proud of those many Australians who stand up against heinousness of racism,” Mr Shorten said.
As the debate about racism unfolded on the campaign trail, race-fuelled violence broke out in the streets of Melbourne when anti-racism protesters clashed with anti-Islam extremists.
Protesters were hit with Australian flag poles and drenched in pepper spray in the ugly clashes.
Heavy rain didn’t deter the groups in the suburb of Coburg on Saturday as they rallied against both Islam and racism at Bridges Reserve.
More than 500 people, some draped in the Australian flag and most with their faces covered, had to be separated by riot police on Bell Street in Coburg.
More than 50 police, including the mounted branch, separated the rival groups numerous times during the rally.
But they failed to keep some protesters apart, and officers used capsicum foam as scuffles broke out between the rival groups.
They hurled abuse at each other, with anti-racism protesters chanting “Nazi scum, off our streets”.
Counter-protesters attacked a group with large flagpoles flying the Australian flag.
Seven arrests were made.
Anti-Islam groups and the United Patriots Front held a counter rally nearby, with many being bussed into the area.
Those behind the march said they had the right to peacefully protest and were committed to organising a safe rally.
Watch video footage of the protests.