Scott Morrison has said the radio presenter Alan Jones was “way out of line” for saying the Australian prime minister should “shove a sock down the throat” of his New Zealand counterpart, Jacinda Ardern.
Speaking after a 12-hour meeting with other leaders of Pacific countries in Tuvalu on Thursday, Morrison said: “The comment has been relayed to me; on what’s been reported to me, I find that very disappointing and of course that’s way out of line.
“I have two daughters, so you can expect that’s how I would feel personally about it. I’ll leave others to explain what they’ve said and how they’ve said it,” said Morrison.
The radio host – who previously said Julia Gillard should be put in a “chaff bag” and thrown in the sea – said Ardern was “a complete clown” and “a joke” and too outspoken about the climate crisis.
Jones later sought to back away from the comments, saying critics had “wilfully misinterpreted” him and he actually meant Ardern should shove her own sock down her own throat.
Morrison and Ardern are among the leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu, where nations have urged Australia to commit to reducing emissions. Ardern said on Wednesday that Australia “has to answer to the Pacific” and said New Zealand would “do our bit”.
Morrison thanked Ardern for her work in discussions with Pacific leaders and said that while people don’t always have to agree, “we’ve got to learn to disagree better and show respect to one another”.
“Here she is preaching on global warming and saying that we’ve got to do something about climate change,” Jones said on radio station 2GB. “I just wonder whether Scott Morrison is going to be fully briefed to shove a sock down her throat.”
Both Australia’s former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Fiji’s prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, who is in Tuvalu for the forum and a leading global figure on climate change, condemned Jones’s comments.
“Easy to tell someone to shove a sock down a throat when you’re sitting in the comfort of a studio,” he tweeted, adding: “The people of the Pacific, forced to abandon their homes due to climate change, don’t have that luxury.”
Turnbull joined Bainimarama, calling for Jones to apologise to Ardern “for his latest misogynistic rant”.
“When I announced Australia’s Pacific Step Up in 2016 climate action was a key priority. It may be political to some, but it’s existential in the Pacific,” he said.
The CEO of anti-domestic violence body Our Watch, Patty Kinnersly, said the “verbal threat of violence” was very concerning. “Research shows disrespect for women, including sexist comments, is one of the drivers of violence against them.
“Journalists and commentators are very influential: their words have impact and we encourage responsible reporting. Ultimately, we want everyone to understand the power of words and that disrespect or threats create an environment where violence against women is seen as acceptable or can be justified.”
“You can disagree with someone without wanting to silence them,” Kinnersly said.
Speaking to the New Daily on Thursday evening, Jones accused his detractors of “wilful misinterpretation”.
“Of course what I meant to say was that Scott Morrison should tell Ms Ardern to ‘put a sock in it’,” Jones said.
“There are many people who would relish the opportunity to misinterpret things that I have said as we have seen online this afternoon. Of course I would not wish any harm to Jacinda Ardern.”
He did not apologise.
In his morning original comments, Jones claimed that New Zealand’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions had grown more than Australia’s – but also told listeners there was “nothing wrong with” carbon dioxide.
“If you want to talk about carbon dioxide, which I don’t – nothing wrong with it – the fact is New Zealand’s carbon dioxide has grown by 10.8% per capita since 1990. Ours has grown by 1.8%.”
In his later attempt to excuse his comments, Jones maintained his stance.
“This wilful misinterpretation distracts from my point that she was wrong about climate change and wrong about Australia’s contribution to carbon dioxide levels,” he said.
Nearly all the data Jones had cited is incorrect or misleading. New Zealand generated 82% of its electricity from renewable sources, mainly geothermal and hydro, in 2017. Australia is responsible for about 1.3% of global emissions, New Zealand 0.17%.
According to data lodged with the United Nations, Australia’s annual emissions fell 9.3% between 1990 and 2015 if land-clearing is counted, reflecting that 1990 was a big year for land-clearing in Queensland. If land use is excluded, Australia’s emissions rose 27.3% over that time.
New Zealand’s emissions rose 63.6% over that timeframe if land use is included, in part because it has increased harvesting of forest plantations. Take out land use and its emissions are up 24.1%.
Tim Baxter, a senior researcher with the Climate Council, said New Zealand’s emissions had levelled off in recent years and Ardern had introduced legislation setting a target of net zero emissions by 2050. Australia’s emissions have increased for five years straight and it has no long-term emissions goal.
Baxter said Jones’s claims were “very misguided”.
On Thursday afternoon, the broadcasting regulator Acma said it had not yet received any complaints about Jones’s comments.
In 2012, the broadcaster was roundly criticised for saying that then-prime minister Julia Gillard should be “shoved in a chaff bag”.
“The woman’s off her tree and quite frankly they should shove her and Bob Brown in a chaff bag and take them as far out to sea as they can and tell them to swim home,” he said at the time.
He later apologised, saying it was “better left unsaid” and “too clever by half”.
In the same year he said Gillard’s father had died “of shame” because she “told lies every time she stood for parliament”.
Acma found then that Jones had not breached guidelines, and had not incited violence or hatred based on gender.
Jones has also said the same of other politicians such as the Sydney mayor Clover Moore, Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan and Barack Obama.
In 2018 Acma found Jones had breached “generally accepted standards of decency” for using a racist term in relation to the government minister Mathias Cormann.
And in 2007, the watchdog found he encouraged violence and vilified people of Lebanese and Middle Eastern backgrounds in comments made before the Cronulla riots in 2005.