The head of Australia's New South Wales government Dominic Perrottet has been forced to apologize following the revelation that he wore a Nazi uniform to his 21st birthday party some 20 years ago.
The birthday party in question took place in 2003 and only came to light this week when, after days of rumor and speculation, Perrottet admitted to having worn a Nazi uniform to the costume party.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, the Australian politician said that he was "deeply ashamed" of what he did, and added that he was "truly sorry for the hurt and the pain that it will cause people" across the state of New South Wales, particularly "the Jewish community, Holocaust Survivors and veterans and their families."
An estimated 50,000 Jews live in the New South Wales area, according to a 2016 census.
Continuing his televised apology, the premier said: "I was naive, I didn't understand the significance of that decision, the hurt and the pain of what that uniform represents, particularly to the millions of Jewish people who died in the Holocaust."
Who is the New South Wales leader?
Perrottet is a member of the center-right Liberal Party of Australia and is up for reelection in March, although ABC News Australia reported that, according to a government source, his leadership "is now untenable" and he is not expected to be reelected come March.
According to reports in Australian media, Perrottet made the decision to call the press conference after speaking with an outgoing member of his party, who warned him that the photo was circulating online and that people may attempt to use it against him in the run-up to the March elections.
“I’m not the person I am today that I was at 21. Who I am today is formed by the good things I’ve done in my life, not the mistakes I’ve made.”NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet
However, the premier stated that he is unaware of any such photo existing, and denied calling the press conference in order to preempt any political attacks aimed at him.
Addressing questions on the matter during the conference, Perrottet stressed that he hadn't called the conference in order to minimize the damage to his career that the event could cause, instead saying that "this is about a mistake that I made and I did it," The Guardian reported.
"I am not interested in other commentary around it. I am truly sorry for the mistake that I made," he added.
Asked why he had not revealed his past decision to wear a Nazi uniform prior to this week, Perrottet said that he had considered it several times in the past and that the party had caused him "much anxiety" throughout his life.
“I’m not the person I am today that I was at 21,” he said in his apology. “Who I am today is formed by the good things I’ve done in my life, not the mistakes I’ve made.”
Response from the Jewish community
Following the press conference, the politician met with Jewish community leaders and members, including members from the Jewish Board of Deputies and leaders at the Jewish Museum.
Speaking to ABC News, a Jewish Museum official said that following the premier's revelation, she had received a call from a distressed Holocaust survivor living in the Sydney area.
"[He] was mostly concerned about how future generations would take this... and conveying that it is not a past issue, it's a present and future issue," manager of student learning and research at the museum Breann Fallon told the media outlet.
"There is a sense of worry about what kind of world we are creating," she said.
Fallon added that she doesn't believe the inappropriateness of wearing the costume was dulled by time, telling ABC News that "it's not something that we can just say, 'okay that happened 20 years ago'... this is something that we're going to have to carry forward ... and I do have concern whether people will look at this and think 'oh is that okay?'"
At the conclusion of Perottet's meeting at the museum, he declined to speak to the press beyond reiterating his "deepest apologies and regret" over his actions.
The premier told news outlets that the audience had been a "powerful reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust and the impact that's had on the Jewish community."
"We had a very good discussion," he added.