Woolworths was caught out this month selling T-shirts with the slogan “If you don’t love it, leave” emblazoned over an Australian flag.
After George Craig posted a photo of the shirt on Twitter with the caption: “@woolworths cairns, selling racist singlets for everyday low prices! #racist”, the T-shirt was quickly and widely condemned. Woolworths immediately pulled the stock from its shelves and apologised.
But the message on the shirt — that everyone should celebrate Australia no matter what, and if you don’t then you don’t belong here — is not just a T-shirt slogan. It is the same message being promoted by our political leaders.
It is what Prime Minister Tony Abbott means when he tells everyone, and particularly Muslims, to get behind “Team Australia”.
As conservative shock jock Ray Hadley said in defence of the shirts: “This is the best country in the world — if you don’t embrace it you don’t deserve to be here.”
Abbott has a lot to gain politically by using this divisive language. His government’s budget was deeply unpopular because it hit the poorest and most marginalised the hardest, while the rich benefited.
Abbott’s policies will raise fees for university students, introduce a payment to see a doctor and make young people wait for six months before they are able to access welfare.
It is clear that the threat to “our way of life” comes from the neoliberal ideas that believe society should not provide for people, but individuals should have to pay for everything themselves. And if you cannot afford it, then bad luck.
It is not immigrants or refugees who are taking away housing, jobs and welfare — it’s Abbott.
But Abbott wants to be re-elected, so he uses racism and division as a way to distract the public from the way his government is making their lives harder. And if you don’t like what the government is doing, you can get out.
In recent months, Abbott has reignited hysteria about Muslim terrorism. Only days after Abbott raised the terror threat level, the largest police raids in Australia’s history were carried out. About 800 police were used in an operation to raid homes in Sydney and Brisbane.
There was no plot to carry out violence, there were no plans to attack buildings, and no weapons were found — the main thing seized by police was a plastic sword.
The media played their role by reporting speculation that Muslims were going to pull a random person off the street and behead them.
This hysteria has resulted in a large number of physical and verbal attacks on Muslims in public. In the three weeks after the terror raids, 30 Muslim women were attacked, a Sydney Morning Herald article said on October 9.
This included “a woman [who] was threatened with having her hijab torn from her head and set alight, a cup of coffee was thrown through the car window of a woman driving in a hijab, and a pig's head and cross were thrown into the grounds of a Brisbane mosque.”
When the prime minister starts fear-mongering about terrorism, and MPs such as Jacquie Lambie call for the burqa to be banned, it creates a climate of fear and hostility in which innocent people are fair game for attack.
As civil rights lawyer Rob Stary said, this is political theatre.
Australia is not a White country, it was founded on the dispossession of Aboriginal peoples, and the idea that White culture is the “true” Australian culture, is wrong. In fact, there is no true Australian culture. Right from the start of British colonisation, people from all over the world have lived and worked in Australia.
“Team Australia” is a myth, and is a way for the government to pretend we are united and all have the same interests.
But when the government says it is protecting the “national interest”, it is really protecting the interests of the powerful and the rich — the ones who benefit when the country goes to war, or get tax cuts while everyone else has to pay more for basic services such as health and education.
There is nothing to love about the racism that the government is promoting. But instead of leaving, those who are opposed to it should join together and say that racism is not welcome here.