Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has weighed in on the debate surrounding the removal of controversial memorials of historic figures, saying people need to “respect history”.

His comments come after a website calling for the removal of memorials of figures that “celebrate slavery and racism” listed Captain James Cook as one of its targets.

The Topple the Racists website describes Cook, who charted the east coast of Australia 250 years ago, as “a colonialist who murdered Maori people in their homeland”.

Speaking on Australia’s 2GB radio show Ben Fordham Live, Mr Morrison said people need to acknowledge the “positive and the negative” when it comes to historical figures.

“I have always said we have to be honest about our history,” he said.

“We have got to acknowledge the positive and the negative but I think we also have got to respect our history as well and this is not a licence for people to just go nuts on this stuff.”

Mr Morrison, who represents a federal electorate named after Cook, added he felt that the Black Lives Matter movement has been overtaken by political agendas.

“Australia, when it was founded as a settlement as New South Wales, was on the basis that there would be no slavery,” he said.

“And so I think what we are seeing with some of these protests, they start on a fair point when they are raising issues about people’s treatment in custody or things like that, fair issue, but now it’s been taken over by other much more politically-driven, left-wing agendas which are seeking to take advantage of these opportunities to push their political causes.”

His comments come less than a day after the mayor of Middlesbrough in England said Teessiders are proud of Cook and statues of the explorer should not be removed.

Andy Preston praised the explorer and navigator – who has a statue in his home town, as well as in Great Ayton and Whitby, in North Yorkshire – as “the most successful Teessider in history”.

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