Australian foreign minister recalls 'unabashedly racist' Thatcher comment

Bob Carr says British PM warned of dangers of being 'overtaken by migrants'

Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr made the comments to ABC television late on Tuesday from China, where he is on a state visit. Photograph: Reuters

Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr made the comments to ABC television late on Tuesday from China, where he is on a state visit. Photograph: Reuters

 

Australia’s foreign minister Bob Carr says Margaret Thatcher made an “unabashedly racist” comment to him about Asian immigration.

Speaking in a television interview, Mr Carr said Mrs Thatcher told him Australia could end up like Fiji “where the Indian migrants have taken over”.

Mr Carr, whose wife was born in Malaysia, said he respected some aspects of Mrs Thatcher’s political leadership, but there were “100 other things [over which] I would pick arguments with her”.

“I recall one conversation I had with her in her retirement where she said something that was unabashedly racist,” he told ABC television late yesterday from China, where he is on a state visit.

“She warned Australia - talking to me with Helena [his wife] standing not far away - against Asian immigration, saying that if we allowed too much of it we’d see the ’natives’ of the land, the European settlers, overtaken by migrants,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it.

Old-fashioned quality

“It reminded me that despite, yes, her greatness on those big questions, the role of the state, the evil nature of the communist totalitarianism, there was an old-fashioned quality to her that was entirely out of touch and probably explained why her party removed her in the early ’90s.”

Mr Carr, who was the Labor premier of New South Wales from 1995-2005, said Mrs Thatcher used the island nation of Fiji as an example.

“I remember one thing she said as part of that conversation. She said, ‘You will end up like Fiji’.

“She said, ‘I like Sydney but you can’t allow the migrants’ - and in context she meant Asian migration - ‘to take over, otherwise you will end up like Fiji where the Indian migrants have taken over’.

“I was so astonished I don’t think I could think of an appropriate reply,” said Mr Carr.

Julie Bishop, deputy leader of the opposition Liberal Party, said Mr Carr’s comments were “graceless” and that he should apologise to Mrs Thatcher’s family.

  ‘‘His decision to make these claims after her death is a crude attempt to slur the reputation of one of the 20th century’s most outstanding leaders,’’ she said.

Ms Bishop is likely to become Australia’s foreign minister after the federal election in September, which the Liberal/National coalition is expected to win in a landslide.