Last Friday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull held a long press conference on the broad themes of terror, policing and relations with Australia’s Muslim community. While Turnbull was carefully navigating through his vocabulary to avoid mouthing the slogans so beloved of Tony Abbott, he nonetheless chose to play the “love it or leave” card. Albeit a very Turnbull version of it:
“If you find Australian values unpalatable,” he said, “then there’s a big wide world out there and people have got freedom of movement.”
In re-wrapping the tired Southern Cross bumper sticker meme in his flowery waffle, Turnbull actually helped to highlight one of the core contradictions at the heart of the current political debate around citizenship in this country. Earlier on the same day, Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton stood next to Major General Andrew Bottrell to deliver one of his regular briefings on Australia’s militarised ‘Stop The Boats’ program.
“The Prime Minister has made, and I have made [clear] on countless occasions,” said Dutton, warming to a now-familiar theme, “we are not going to allow people to turn up again unannounced on boats.”
The contrast between Turnbull and Dutton’s statements raises an obvious question: why does one group of people (asylum seekers) have extremely limited freedom of movement, and the other group (Australia haters) have an apparent surplus?
The idea that people can simply pick a country of residence, let alone citizenship, as if perusing a restaurant menu, is absurd. Freedom of movement is relative, and largely a privilege enjoyed only by the privileged. Do you have the money, networks, literacy and cultural capital to navigate complicated bureaucracy, along with the “right” passport? Congratulations. Do you have a criminal record or an empty bank account, or did you lose the lottery of birth and get stuck with a passport that has you automatically red-flagged by immigration departments? Bad luck. Even the very privileged likely have a very narrow range of options for residence and possible citizenship outside Australia, so it’s questionable if those being inviting to “leave” could even do so if they wanted. It’s unlikely this troubles Malcolm Turnbull, though.
The “love it or leave” rhetoric long employed by Proud Aussies, and more lately our political (and religious) leaders, is, if taken at face value, simplistic and dumb. What exactly does loving or hating Australia entail? What precisely are “Australian values”? Perhaps a better challenge to those who would channel their grievances through violence is: “hey, look, don’t, it’s against the law and there are consequences.” Citizenship as a legal concept requires adherence to the law, not the love and embrace of a concept as nebulous as “Australia”. But this is a pretty boring message which is difficult to succinctly express on an Aussie flag tank top.
As is pretty obvious, “love it or leave” is not a face value threat issued to Australians who allegedly do not love it. Rather, it’s a dog-whistle slogan targeted at Australians who say they do and are concerned about those who might not. It’s political messaging through and through, and rather than uniting, it further entrenches an “us and them” divide between citizens. But good on Turnbull for for not saying “Team Australia”, hey? What a guy.