“When are we going to wake up to the fact that encouraging people to live here as South Sudanese speaking Dinka, rather than as Australians speaking English, is not good for our society? It’s not good for cohesion and not even good for our recently arrived migrants.”
The editorial received swift online backlash from members of Australia’s South Sudanese community, who said the community understood and was abiding by COVID-19 restrictions.
Within days, Sky News Australia released an apology on behalf of its host, saying Credlin and the broadcaster “accept these comments were inaccurate and sincerely apologised for any offence caused by the remarks”.
Now, a year and a half later, Credlin has issued her own four-minute apology in which she admitted her comments were wrong and accepts they were deeply offensive.
“I incorrectly linked the South Sudanese community to a cluster of cases that had developed following the end of Ramadan in Melbourne’s northern suburbs,” she said in a broadcast on Friday.
“This was actually wrong, and I again deeply regret the error.”
She said she accepts her comments caused “genuine hurt and offence to South Sudanese community members”.
“That was not my intention,” she said.
Credlin said she has met with community representatives on various occasions, which made her understand how her comments “had made them feel they were being blamed because of their race for Victoria’s ongoing COVID infections”.
She that while she had already apologised for her statements, she now realised the previous apology “was too limited and caused further offence”.
It was now her intention to correct the record, she said.
“The South Sudanese community was not involved in the end-of-Ramadan cluster”, she stated, adding that the vast majority of South Sudanese-born members community were Christian, not Muslim.
And while she had cast blame on the community at the time for their lack of English language skills and education – particularly among women – she also admitted that was wrong.
“Many members of the community were born in Australia, were educated here and read, write and speak English perfectly well,” she said.
“I extend to the South Sudanese community my sincerest apologies for these errors and the hurt, humiliation and offence caused by the broadcasts.
“The South Sudanese community, like all communities, has taken steps to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic and to embrace Australia while understandably maintaining their own cultural identities.”
Her lengthy comments caused a stir on social media on Sunday, with some questioning whether they went far enough to correct the errors of the original statement.
Victorian Minister Martin Pakula urged people to watch the apology and used the occasion to once again condemn the comments.
“Watch this 4 minute long apology from Peta Credlin. And remember it the next time she maliciously tees off on someone, or about something, without foundation,” he tweeted.
Watch this 4 minute long apology from Peta Credlin. And remember it the next time she maliciously tees off on someone, or about something, without foundation. https://t.co/tDjB0baSI7
Credlin was Mr Abbott’s chief of staff between 2009 and 2015, with her career in politics stretching back to 1999 when she became a staffer for former Liberal Senator Kay Patterson.
She was this year made an Officer of the Order of Australia for her services to parliament and politics.