Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop greets her Labor shadow Tanya Plibersek earlier this year. Ms Plibersek has brushed off calling Africa a country. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek has defended mistakenly calling Africa a country instead of a continent, saying the government's $7 billion cut to foreign aid is the real embarrassment.
Speaking on her way into Parliament on Wednesday morning, Ms Plibersek was asked about Australia's role in trying to combat the outbreak of the potentially fatal disease Ebola.
Ms Plibersek attacked the Coalition government's decision to cut future foreign aid spending, particularly in African nations.
"Africa is one of the countries that has suffered most from these cuts to the aid budget," she told reporters.
She said the Ebola outbreak was a "real event" where Australia "could and should be doing more", but said it would be difficult with a "$7.6 billion cut to the aid budget".
In 2001, former US President George W. Bush made a similar gaffe, saying Africa was "a nation that suffered from incredible disease", leading to accusations that he lacked an interest in Africa.
Ms Plibersek later on Wednesday said in a statement that she "misspoke" and added: "I'd be more embarrassed about cutting $118 million in aid to Africa – which is exactly what the government has done."
The government still provides $187 million in development assistance to African nations.
It's not the first time Ms Plibersek has wrongly called Africa a country.
In an interview in May, Labor's deputy leader also called Africa a country, but on that occasion corrected herself and said: "Africa is a continent where we have previously given aid dollars."
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop took a diplomatic swipe at her shadow on Wednesday, saying: "Africa most certainly is a continent and Australia has a very good relationship with a number of the countries that make up the African continent so perhaps she made a slip of the tongue."
At the weekend, Ms Plibersek twice failed to endorse near universal praise of Ms Bishop's performance in representing Australia.
When asked if she agreed with the assessment by the US ambassador to Australia that Ms Bishop had taken the "world by storm" and was a "top tier" foreign minister, Ms Plibersek replied: "John Berry is a terrific diplomat."
Famous misspeaks by Australian politicians
- Tony Abbott: on an official trip to Canada this year, the PM made a slip of the tongue, referring to the nation as Canadia.
- Stephanie Banister: The previously unknown One Nation candidate seemed confused about just what she was criticising, when, during the 2013 federal election campaign, she said: I don't oppose Islam as a country, but I do feel that their laws should not be welcome here in Australia."
- Tony Abbott: Also during last year's election campaign, the then opposition leader inspired a thousand internet memes with his assertion that he was not "the suppository of all wisdom".
- Julia Gillard: The former prime minister and education minister was caught out during an interview on the ABC's 7.30 program in 2011, mispronouncing the word hyperbole as "hyperbowl".
- Stephen Fielding: The crossbencher mangled a common phrase during a Senate speech in 2009, saying: "I'm torn between two places and a hard rock."