Australia Day has been and gone but the heated debate over whether the date should be changed devolved into an ugly spat on live TV.
Studio 10 panelists clashed so badly while discussing Saturday’s ‘Invasion Day’ protests on Monday that Kerri-Anne Kennerley was branded a racist.
The veteran presenter turned to the camera as if to speak directly to the thousands who flooded the streets around the country over the weekend.
‘OK, the 5,000 people who went through the streets making their points known, saying how inappropriate the day is,’ she began.
‘Has any single one of those people been out to the Outback, where children, babies, five-year-olds, are being raped?
‘Their mothers are being raped, their sisters are being raped. They get no education. What have you done?’
The panel sat in shocked silence for several seconds until KIIS FM and ABC radio host Yumi Stynes went straight for the jugular.
‘That is not even faintly true, Kerri-Anne. You’re sounding quite racist right now,’ she said.
Kerri-Anne Kennerley said Australia Day protesters should be doing something about the high rate of sexual assault among Aboriginal women instead of focusing on the date
The studio audience gave a loud gasp at the accusation and Kennerley responded that she was offended.
But Stynes doubled down on her insult: ‘Well keep going then, because every time you open your mouth you’re sounding racist.’
Kennerley, 37, wasn’t prepared to cede any ground, either, and again went after the protesters who she accused of only caring one day of the year.
‘I am seriously offended by that, Yumi. Seriously offended,’ she said.
‘These people are desperate for help. Aboriginal elder women are desperate for help, and they’re not getting it.
KIIS FM and ABC radio host Yumi Stynes responded: ‘That is not even faintly true, Kerri-Anne. You’re sounding quite racist right now’
‘Where are these people [other than] one day of the year? You’d be better off doing something positive.’
With the argument threatening to boil over, host Sarah Harris tried to defuse the situation, to no avail.
‘Take it back a notch… everything’s going to be cool,’ she interjected.
She tried to say that it an issue that really ‘fires people up’, but maintained ‘everyone has their hearts in the right places and everyone wants to do the right thing’.
Stynes told Kennerley many of the protesters would have previously gone out into the Indigenous communities, but Kennerley demanded exact numbers.
Clearly not backing down, Stynes told Kennerley she was glossing over women and children also being raped in cities, claiming it wasn’t just a rural problem.
Thousands took to the streets on Saturday to protest against Australia Day and demanding the date be changed as January 26 represents ‘Invasion Day’
Kennerley insisted she wasn’t racist just because she ‘had a point of view’, but Stynes objected to her making assumptions about 5,000 people.
‘Yeah, you’re actually connecting rape, child abuse, you’re drawing a straight line… and you’re implying those 5000 protesters, none of whom you know personally, are all lazy and idle,’ she said.
‘You’re asking if any of them have ever done anything as though it’s clear they haven’t.’
Kennerley in turn accused her of ‘drawing a line that isn’t there’, but Stynes said she ‘saw it quite clearly’.
‘Well… get new glasses,’ Kennerley snapped back as Yumi sat stony-faced and stared out at the audience.
Above, demonstrators in Melbourne this weekend. Australia’s 700,000 or so indigenous people track near the bottom of its 25million citizens in almost every economic and social indicator
While opinion polls suggest up to half the country supports changing Australia Day, the conservative government is under pressure to legally entrench January 26 as a national holiday. Pictured, protesters in Brisbane on Saturday
Harris finally managed to get control of the segment and beg the panelists to stop calling each other names.
‘This is just an issue that Yumi and I have. There are probably 20 other things that we do agree on — this is just one that we don’t,’ Kennerley replied.
A 2004 survey of 6,677 women found sexual assault was three times higher among Aboriginal women than other groups.
Then last year a wide-ranging investigation charged 36 men with more than 300 crimes against 184 children in remote Aboriginal communities in WA, and identified three times that many suspects.
West Australian Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan said the scale of arrests was ‘staggering’ and the problem was ‘a cancer’.
‘It’s a war zone out there and the victims are little kids,’ he told the ABC last year.
Thousands took to the streets, including these demonstrators in Sydney. Australia Day is usually celebrated with picnics, traditional Aboriginal performances and citizenship ceremonies, where new Australians pledge their commitment to the nation