Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has come under severe criticism for saying that he is “blessed” for not having any children with disabilities.
When a parent asked him about funding cuts to the National Disability Insurance Scheme on Wednesday night, he said: “Jenny and I have been blessed, we have two children who haven’t had to go through that.”
“And so for parents, with children who are disabled, I can only try and understand your aspirations for those children,” he added. “And then I think that is the beauty of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.”
His remarks sparked an immediate backlash from Labor MPs and disability advocates.
However, Mr Morrison claimed on Thursday that his words had been “twisted”.
During a debate with Labor leader Anthony Albanese, the parent, who was identified as Catherine Yeoman, asked Mr Morrison about the funding for a disability support scheme.
She said: “I’ve been told, to give my son the best future, I need to vote Labor. Can you please tell me what the future of the [National Disability Insurance Scheme] looks like under your government?”
The PM added that the scheme helped people live their “best possible life”, while adding it still had “faults” that needed to be addressed.
Reacting sharply to his answer, Labor Senator Katy Gallagher, who has an autistic daughter, said “certainly my daughter enriches my life and my partner’s life every day” and that Mr Morrison’s response was “the kind of response they get all the time”.
She told Channel 7: “I found it really offending and quite shocking.”
On Thursday, Mr Morrison said he did not think Ms Yeoman found his words offensive or hurtful.
“Catherine certainly didn’t convey to me that she had taken it in that way,” he said.
Ms Yeoman, however, told BrisbaneTimes that “every child is a blessing” and that “it was a poor choice of words”.
ABC News reported that the prime minister apologized to Paralympian and Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott after making the “blessed” remarks. Mr Alcott had also criticized the PM for his disability remark about him.
Mr Alcott said: “Woke up this morning feeling very blessed to be disabled – I reckon my parents are pretty happy about it too.”
“Feeling sorry for us and our families doesn’t help. Treating us equally, and giving us the choice and control over our own lives does,” he added.
On Thursday, Mr Morrison said that he never intended to mean that all children were not a blessing.
He said: “I’ve had a chat with Dylan Alcott about those issues today. I don’t want this comment to overshadow the intent of the original question.”
Former Australian of the Year Grace Tame had also earlier said that “autism blesses those of us who have it with the ability to spot fakes from a mile off”.
The PM had on Thursday tried to defend himself by saying that his remark was “in good faith”.
“But I was just simply trying to say… I haven’t walked in your shoes, Catherine. I’m not going to pretend to say that I understand it as well as you do.”
Meanwhile, Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes, who has a son with autism, slammed Mr Morrison’s opponents for “politicising” the issue and missing the point.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.