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Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the arrival of European settlers “wasn’t a particular flash day” for convicts on board, as he defended Australia Day being celebrated on January 26.

The timing of Australia Day, which marks the arrival of the European colonists in 1788, is controversial, with many Australians calling it “Invasion Day”.

But the Prime Minister has come out and said that it was also a difficult time for the European settlers, which included many convicts sent across the word against their will.

“When those 12 ships turned up in Sydney all those years ago, it wasn’t a particularly flash day for the people on those vessels either,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Around 750 to 780 people on board the first fleet were convicts, many deported for minor crimes.

But Labor Indigenous Australians spokeswoman Linda Burney said it wasn’t helpful to get into a debate.

“Suffering is not a competition. What the Prime Minister has said makes no sense,” she told NCA NewsWire.

“As the leader of the country, he has an example to set for the rest of the nation and he should know better.

“How can we expect to see real progress on issues such as Reconciliation and Closing the Gap when he makes such ignorant and unhelpful comments like this?”

Morrison criticised Cricket Australia on Thursday for leaving out a reference to Australia Day during Big Bash League matches on January 26, which he argued was a day of unity.

He said the national apology to the Stolen Generation showed Australia had been “pretty upfront and honest” about its past and warned against “airbrushing” history.

“What that day to this demonstrates is how far we’ve come as a country, and I think that’s why it’s important that we mark it in that way,” he said.

“It’s not about that day so much, it’s about how far we’ve come together since that day.”

But Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young told the PM to “read the room”, saying Australians were “sick of this type of ignorance” and wanted genuine recognition from their leaders.

“For the Prime Minister to belittle the genuine hurt, sorrow and suffering felt by First Nations people on this day is extremely disappointing,” she told NCA NewsWire.

“We need better leadership than this from our government. The Prime Minister’s comments were either sloppy, careless or deliberate. Whichever it is, he should apologise.”

This article originally appeared on Over60.

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