After Studio 10 co-host Kerri-Anne Kennerley talked about sexual violence in Indigenous communities during a discussion about “Invasion Day” demonstrators, TV viewers faced a question: Were her comments racist?
The morning show veteran made inflammatory comments which implied that demonstrators who want to change the date of Australia Day were ignoring the alleged rape of Indigenous women and children in the “outback”.
Protests were held outside Network Ten’s Sydney studio. Conservative newspapers – including the Daily Telegraph and The Australian – sided with Kennerley, but many on social media voiced their criticism.
Ten weeks since the original broadcast, Kennerley travelled to Alice Springs with a camera crew to "listen and learn" from an Indigenous anti-violence group.
Anecdotal evidence and media reports suggest that Indigenous women in Central Australia are up to 80 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence than non-Indigenous women in the general population.
For Shirleen Campbell the cause is personal: Two of her aunts were killed by their husbands.
In response she revived the Tangentyere Women's Family Safety Group – a grassroots effort to curb domestic violence issues in Alice Springs.
Ms Campbell said that although she was angered by Kennerley’s comments, she decided to extend an invitation to visit the town camps.
“I felt upset,” she said.
“It took me a few hours to get over it.”
Ms Campbell's grandmother, Peggy Brown, was orphaned by the 1928 Coniston massacre. Sitting beneath a corrugated iron shade, she spoke about generations of trauma experienced by her family and the difficulties of resolving issues in the outback community.
"Wasn't I being your voice?" Kennerley asked.
"Sorta, yeah," Ms Campbell said.
“Do you forgive me, by the way?” Kennerley asked.
“Yeah, I do,” Ms Campbell said.
However, the TV host also revealed that she has no regrets about her on-air remarks.
“The fact I stated is that Aboriginal women and children are being abused. That is absolutely correct and right,” she told Network Ten.
“I understand it may have been a bit clunky, and I’m a white person saying it. That doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
In a cross from Alice Springs to the Network Ten’s Sydney studio, Kennerley took questions from Studio 10’s panel.
“We heard you ask for forgiveness,” said Indigenous newsreader Narelda Jacobs.
“Does that mean you were sorry for your approach to the issue or what you said on the panel that day?”
Kennerley replied: “It’s not that I’m sorry, I’m just so glad that I had the opportunity to tell Australia what’s going on out here.”
The debate then returned to the issue which began the whole controversy, changing the date of Australia Day.
“What’s the community view on changing the day of Australia Day from January 26?” co-host Sarah Harris asked.
“I didn’t hear it brought up once,” Kennerley said.
“I think to them it’s irrelevant. They’re trying to solve grassroots issues that are happening here and now. Changing the date, I think that’s a city issue, not an on-county issue.”