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Australian ministers under fire for backing 'okay to be white' vote

© AFP | The failed 'okay to be white' was tabled by right-wing senator Pauline Hanson

SYDNEY (AFP) - 

Australia's indigenous affairs minister and several of his colleagues faced calls to resign Monday, after they backed a failed parliamentary motion tabled by a controversial senator that declared: "It is okay to be white."

Several government ministers -- including those for trade, communications and indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion -- backed a resolution drafted by populist firebrand senator Pauline Hanson which railed against what it described as "the deplorable rise of anti-white racism".

Luke Pearson, the founder of influential anti-racism group, IndigenousX, echoed a string of calls for Scullion to resign after the vote.

"The minister for Indigenous Affairs, voting in support of what is widely known to be a white supremacist slogan, 'It's okay to be white', makes his position as minister entirely untenable. He needs to resign," Pearson wrote.

Scullion, a white senator for the Northern Territory, has held the Indigenous Affairs portfolio since 2013.

During parliamentary debate Hanson defended trying to codify what opponents see as race baiting.

"Such a simple sentence should go without saying," Hanson told the chamber, before her motion was defeated 31 votes to 28. "But I suspect many members in this place would struggle to say it."

Greens leader Richard Di Natale decried the move.

"It's not just okay to be white in Australia, it's actually a ticket to winning the lotto. Look around this chamber and see how many faces aren't white," he said.

"The reality is this 'it's okay to be white' slogan has a long history in the white supremacist movement where both these clowns get most of their material from," he said referring to Hanson and another senator who supported the motion.

Although one-in-two Australians has a parent born abroad, racial inequality and public discourse on the issue is fraught.

Australia's treatment of its indigenous population has long been a festering historical and political sore.

The Aborginal population, who have occupied Australia for 50,000 years, were dispossessed of their lands by the arrival of settlers two centuries ago.

They remain among the most disadvantaged Australians.

They were believed to have numbered around one million at the time of British settlement, but now make up only about three percent of the total population of 25 million.

© 2018 AFP