Marlene Kairouz, minister for consumer affairs in the Victorian government, admitted she “delivered her message poorly”, when launching the ‘Say No To Travelling Con Men’ campaign on Monday.
The campaign warns of the dangers of door-to-door tradesmen who offer cheap deals, and who pressure people to pay cash upfront, before disappearing and leaving behind unfinished or poor quality work.
However, speaking at the launch of the campaign, on Monday, Ms Kairouz noted that, in many cases of fraud, the alleged perpetrators have Irish accents.
“If anybody knocks on your door that has an Irish accent, automatically ask them to leave,” Ms Kairouz told the assembled media at the press conference.
The comments caused outrage among Irish people in Australia, some of whom took to Ms Kairouz’s Facebook page to criticise the minister for her remark.
“In the midst of all of my thieving and drinking and fighting, I managed to go to university (Imagine that?!), but I’m now an Irish GP who does house calls sometimes. Will I have to start faking an Aussie accent to get in the door?” one person asked.
“The Irish in Victoria were recently acknowledged as the highest-earning immigrant group. Are you going to apply the same prejudicial logic to the thousands of doctors, nurses, and teachers who keep Victoria going?” another wrote.
“Have you even considered the thousands of tradespeople with Irish accents who contribute to the economy and the effect you could have on their business by tarnishing them in this way?” an Irish Facebook user asked.
Ms Kairouz has since apologised for the remark.
“I made a comment at a scam-awareness campaign launch that caused offence to people with Irish heritage,” she said. “Recent scammers have been backpackers from the UK and Ireland and I was giving this info to the public. I admit I delivered this message poorly.
“I sincerely apologise for causing offence and my poor choice of words.”