In a special, commercial-free live interview on tonight’s episode of The Project, the Prime Minister looked frustrated as he went head-to-head with Waleed Aly.
Scott Morrison says he was actually seeking to address community concerns about Muslim migration in a 2011 meeting in which he has been accused of encouraging colleagues to use them for political gain.
“It never happened. I’ve always been deeply concerned about attitudes towards people of Muslim faith in our community,” the prime minister told Ten’s The Project program on Thursday.
“I was acknowledging that there were these fears in the community and that we had to address them, not exploit them.
“I was concerned that we needed to address them, which is what I have been doing inside and outside of the parliament for the last 10 years.”
In reports dating back to 2011, unnamed sources said Mr Morrison had encouraged his Liberal colleagues in a shadow cabinet meeting to make the most of community concerns about Muslim migration.
Mr Morrison has consistently denied the sentiment.
The story resurfaced online in the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre, in which a lone gunman opened fire at two mosques during Friday prayers, killing 50 people.
The Project host Waleed Aly referred to the reports in a widely-shared monologue on the show after the shootings last week.
In a one-on-one interview with Aly on Thursday, the prime minister said he did not agree with what he put forward, saying whomever spoke to a journalist to “smear” him in that way eight years ago was lying.
“You implied that Muslims couldn’t feel safe because they had a prime minister who somehow had been prejudiced against them,” Mr Morrison said.
“And I don’t believe that’s true.”
Asked whether Australia has a problem with Islamophobia, Mr Morrison acknowledged the nation may not understand the faith as well as it could.
“I don’t know if Australians understand Islam very well, and that can often lead to the fear of things that you don’t understand, so by definition that’s what it leads to,” he said.
“But that doesn’t always lead to extremism, just like any view doesn’t necessarily lead to extremism.”
He was more resolute when asked whether there is an Islamophobia problem within the Liberal Party, and said he doesn’t believe there is.
But the leader acknowledged the party is made up of “a lot of individuals”.
“It is not for the party to answer for every single member on every single occasion,” he said.
“As leader, it’s my job to ensure that the tone I set is the right tone.”
Mr Morrison stressed the importance of encouraging mutual understanding.
“Let’s try and better understand where we’re all coming from and not try to line each other up in teams.”