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Dec 15, 2015

Oz defends 'racist' Bill Leak cartoon: critics didn't get the joke

A cartoon in The Australian isn't making fun of Indians, but climate activists, argues the paper's editors.


The Australian has defended a Bill Leak cartoon in yesterday’s edition that critics said was racist, arguing that the gag was not that Indians were poor and uneducated, but that the UN was sending them useless aid.

Academics, Indian journalists and social media critics said the cartoon depended on racist stereotypes to make fun of Indian people. It depicts a group of Indians in traditional dress complaining about the delivery of UN solar panels. “It’s no good, you can’t eat them,” one cries. “Hang on, let me try one with a bit of mango chutney,” another responds. The caption below reads Aid A La Mode, roughly, “Fashionable Aid”.


The Bill Leak cartoon in yesterday’s Australian

Catch News, an English-language Indian publication, weighed in on the controversy, explaining that India was a powerhouse of green energy generation. “You may send us your apology soon, Mr Leak. We’ll send you a few jars of scrumptious mango chutney in return,” it stated. The cartoon made the Times of India, the Hindustan Times, and in the UK, The Telegraph. Meanwhile closer to home, Amanda Wise, associate professor of sociology at Macquarie University, told The Guardian Australia the cartoon was “unequivocally racist” and “draws on very base stereotypes of third world, underdeveloped people who don’t know what to do with technology”.

“India is the technology centre of the world right now and has some of the most high-tech industries on the planet in that part of the world. The underlying message is that people in developing countries don’t need all these technologies to do with climate change — they need food. But actually it is people living in poverty that will suffer the most through food security, sea level rises, dropping of the water table.”

Meanwhile, Canberra Times cartoonist David Pope described Leak’s cartoon on Twitter as “absurd racist rubbish”.

But in a statement this morning, The Australian’s editors said the critics had misunderstood the cartoon:

“We stand by this cartoon and believe it is a strong example of Bill Leak and The Australian’s exercise of its commitment to freedom of speech. The cartoon does not intend to ridicule Indians but the climate change activists who would send poor people solar panels rather than give them something they need — cheap power, aid and a hand up.

“This has been a long-running theme throughout the Paris conference.

“Those following the debates in and around the Paris conference run in our pages would have realised the target of the cartoon was not Indians. It was quite the opposite. Our readers would have — and, in fact, have — understood this.”

As evidence of the Oz’s focus on such useless aid, the statement offers up a recent piece by economist Bjorn Lomborg, which detailed the efforts of those in Dharnai, an Indian village in Bihar, to connect to the power grid. After a delay, Lomborg writes, Greenpeace decided to supply them with solar panels, which were “drained of power within a few hours”. When a visiting politician turned up to see the progress, he was greeted with villagers demanding to be connected to “real electricity”. Thankfully, Lomborg wrote, the villagers are today connected to the power grid.

Bill Leak’s cartoons have provoked accusations of racism in the past. Last year, The Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network slammed a Leak cartoon published that depicted a Palestinian militant with a hooded face bending down to pat his young child on the head, telling the boy to “go out to play and win the PR war for daddy”.

George Browning, the former Anglican bishop of Canberra, told Crikey he was shocked by the cartoon. “I immediately thought of my Palestinian friends. There is no one in the world who loves their children more than the Palestinians. Can you imagine how it would feel to see the cartoon after having lost a child in an Israeli airstrike?”

But the cartoon wasn’t making fun of Palestinians, but of terrorists, then Oz editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell said. “It depicts a Hamas terrorist, hence the black face covering and automatic weapon over his shoulder,” he said. “The cartoon could not be clearer.”

Leak is one of Australia’s most awarded cartoonists. He’s won nine Walkley awards, and is an awarded portrait painter — he’s won the Packing Room Prize twice and the Archiband People’s Choice award three times.


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25 thoughts on “Oz defends ‘racist’ Bill Leak cartoon: critics didn’t get the joke

  1. David Sanderson

    The Australian is failing to differentiate between means and ends. The purpose might have been (a rather peculiar) attack on environmentalists but the means to do so was ludicrous and offensive racial stereotyping of Indians, poor Indians in particular.

  2. TrueBlueAussie

    If it was Indians trying to eat Coal… the far-left hate brigade would have said what a funny cartoon it was all would be laughs and giggles from the left without a hint of angst.

    Unfortunately it has Solar Panels that means the left must play it’s usual Go-To Card… Racism. Pretty lazy effort this time though I must say.

  3. Di Keller

    Ah, you used to be funny Bill.

  4. Ross Carnsew

    Bill Leak is horrible.

  5. Bob's Uncle

    I’m sure The Australian will adopt the same level of sensitivity to racial stereotyping as they did when Fairfax published the Glen Le Lievre cartoon with the “hook-nosed” Jewish fellow.

  6. Zeke

    TrueBlueAussie@ 2

    ..but there were no “left wing” cartoons about Indians eating coal and never have been. You lose. I suggest that the Australian might want to increase your wage.

    Are you sure you’re name isn’t “TrueWhiteAussie”?

  7. klewso

    Leaked Coalslew dressing.

  8. Terry of Tuggeranong

    I hope Leak is not heading the same way as Pickering

  9. John Newton

    ‘Drained of power in a couple of hours’? Then add more! Lomberg is a total tool.

  10. paddy

    Oh dear. When the Australian’s editors have to explain a cartoon to their readers….I think something’s broken.
    Hint: It’s not the readers.

  11. Norman Hanscombe

    It’s sad that Crikey can’t see the unintended humour in much of what it passes off as ‘analysis’; but reading the Posts above it’s clear many of its subscribers are in the same boat, so as a capitalist commercial enterprise Crikey needs to feed them whatever pap works.

  12. wayne robinson


    I’m a liberal. If the cartoon had shown Indians attempting to eat coal, I wouldn’t have found it funny either.


    The Age published a Tanberg cartoon this morning. The editors didn’t need to note that the person caricatured was their resident AGW denialist/cartoonist John Spooner. It was pretty obvious despite cartoonists not exactly ever getting their photos in newspapers.

    It was also (mildly) funny, unlike most of John Spooner’s cartoons.

    John Newton,

    My comment exactly. I didn’t read the Lomborg’s article though – I refuse to pay to go behind the wall.

  13. Andrew McIntosh

    It just doesn’t work as a cartoon. That’s it’s real sin. It isn’t funny and it isn’t clever. “Mango chutney”, for Christ’s sake…

  14. Glen

    Bjorn Lomborg is not an economist. He has a PhD in polictical science (aspects of game theory) and once lectured in statistics. If you must use a label, “author” would be accurate.

  15. Robert Smith

    Not funny. Not in context. Simply outrageous. Before having another go, Mr Leak, please find out a bit more about India and Indians.

  16. klewso

    I thought it was just another ad for “Murdoch’s Coalslew Dressing” … aimed at making the swallowing of coal PR/crap easy?

  17. AR

    I doubt that Lomborg thinks that solar panels can be drained of electricity, ‘real’ or otherwise. Oz readers?… yeah, probably.
    Leak has been seriously deranged ever since landing on his head falling from a balcony at a Singo knees-up, 3-5 years ago.

  18. Jaybuoy

    Bill hasn’t really been funny since his fall in 2008..very sad..

  19. 19 maurice

    Like Trump, Abbott, Bolt or the Parrot… time to start laughing at rather than what they say, make or do.

  20. AR

    JayB – thanks, it was seven years ago!

  21. old greybeard

    In fact the remoteness of many Indian communities makes Solar the best start. I cannot believe the utterly dimwitted assertions by the Oz. Leak has lost it I think. Coal kills hundreds and perhaps thousands of Indians each year. If you live far from the grid in Australia, it will cost you a fortune to connect. Even now the bastards in the power industry want to charge you for NOT being connected. Drain the solar panels. What a dickhead.

  22. Draco Houston

    Yeah, the greatest sin this thing commits is not being funny. I laughed at it, but I was laughing at the idea that someone wrote this, drew it, sent it to an editor that approved it, then it got printed, put on the official site, and a senator retweeted it into my twitter timeline thinking it was a good argument. No one along this long chain of people thought about the joke itself. Does it even work?

    On every level the joke is dumb and undermines any point they want to make. Can’t eat coal, cant make coal into power without fiddly and expensive infrastructure and very complex power stations. And you sure as heck can’t eat the material fed into fission reactors.

    All that is left is poking fun at Indian peasants and Indians in general. It doesn’t really work as a joke when the people you’re calling stupid reply back in your own tongue that actually, you are wrong, and basically, you’re really stupid.

    There’s 3 possibilities here:
    1) The editor, being very clever, decided to run this to generate clicks and outrage
    2) Bill Leak has decided to parody himself, making cartoons like The Onion’s ‘Kelly’ but neglecting to tell his editor, to see how long he can do it for. It could be the greatest long con troll in history.
    3) The cartoon depicts what Leak and his editors actually believe.

  23. klewso

    Interesting arguments by those that want to defend this conservative sacred cow?
    (No pun intended)

  24. Justin Harding

    Leak has form on this. I well recall around the time of the Brough intervention in the NT which painted all indigenous males as drunks and woman bashers, and suggested domestic violence was an indigenous cultural experience. And how this latest racist slur in sum way satirises people who believe in climate change has got me beat.

  25. klewso

    It’s probably just me, but could someone explain what’s so funny about some “(paid) cartoonist’s” implication of “Screw solar – coal is the only way to go”? That solar energy doesn’t have a large part to play in meeting the energy needs of India, particularly in villages?
    Or, that “You can eat coal but you can’t eat solar panels…”?
    Maybe his humour is too subtle for me?


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