PERTH, Australia — A former Australian prime minister has joined the chorus of criticism about a cartoon depiction of Senator Kamala Harris in a Rupert Murdoch-owned national newspaper in Australia.
The cartoon, published Friday in The Australian, one of the country’s largest dailies, depicts former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, standing side by side with Ms. Harris, his running mate, and saying: “It’s time to heal a nation divided by racism … so I’ll hand you over to this little brown girl while I go for a lie-down.”
It was met with immediate backlash from politicians and commentators on social media as a racist attack on Ms. Harris. Kevin Rudd, the prime minister of Australia from 2007 to 2010 and briefly again in 2013, called the cartoon “racist and sexist” in a tweet, adding that it was “gross even by Murdoch’s gutter standards.”
The Australian, one of two national daily newspapers in the country, is published by Mr. Murdoch’s News Corp Australia. Mr. Rudd, a vocal critic of News Corp, said Sunday that he had lodged a complaint about the cartoon with the Australian Press Council, an industry regulator.
He said in his letter to the council that The Australian had ridiculed Ms. Harris by “drawing acute attention to her gender and ethnicity” and that the cartoon was “deliberately race-baiting.”
“The overall imputation of the cartoon is that Senator Harris is unsuited to high political office because she is immature — she is a ‘little brown girl’ — and is therefore only in her position because she benefits from charity or tokenism on the basis of race and gender,” Mr. Rudd wrote.
Chris Dore, editor in chief of The Australian, defended the cartoon and the cartoonist, Johannes Leak.
“The words ‘little black and brown girls’ belong to Joe Biden, not Johannes, and were uttered by the presidential candidate when he named Kamala Harris as his running mate on Thursday; he repeated them in a tweet soon after,” Mr. Dore said in a statement.
He added, “The intention of Johannes’s commentary was to ridicule identity politics and demean racism, not perpetuate it.”
Mr. Biden used the phrase “Black and Brown girls” to refer to young people who would be heartened by the choice of Ms. Harris as a candidate for vice president.
Mr. Leak did not respond to a request for comment.
The Australian was criticized in 2019 and earlier this year by climate scientists who said the publication’s coverage of the bushfires that engulfed millions of acres had shifted attention from the role of climate change in the disaster.
James Murdoch, a son of Rupert Murdoch who was long supported environmental causes, resigned from the News Corp board last month, citing “disagreements over certain editorial content published by the company’s news outlets.”