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Flag-waving foolishness that divides

  • 25 August 2014

In the wake of distressing news of James Foley's murder this week by ISIS terrorists, I venture critically to visit the concept of Team Australia, a phrase launched by the Prime Minister a few weeks ago during the debate on weakening the anti-racial vilification laws, and in recent days revived in the context of proposed tougher new anti-terrorism laws ('everybody faces the choice now whether to join Team Australia').

Team Australia, as the term is employed by the Prime Minister, is the antithesis of multicultural Australia. No amount of explanatory glossing or qualification ('whatever your background, we want you on Team Australia') can escape the fact that the term divides people into Us and Them.

It postulates that the world is a competitive environment of nations that win or lose. We are being encouraged to get on the winning team. Games can be friendly or unfriendly, but they are unavoidably about winning or losing. You can't belong to Team Australia and at the same time belong to Team Italy or Team China or Team India , or even Team Israel. You can't play for Team Australia and play for Team Islam or Team Hinduism, because Australia is a Christian (or occasionally a Judaeo-Christian) society. You have to choose your primary loyalty or affiliation: 'He who is not with us is against us'. The more one unpacks the term Team Australia, the nastier it gets. 

The wisdom and humanity of multiculturalism is that it recognises the reality that people's loyalties and affiliations are complex and often contradictory. We live with and celebrate those contradictions. For example, by virtue of my birth, citizenship and ethno-religious background, I could be said to belong to Team Australia, Team Christianity, Team Judaism and Team Ireland. I'm still not sure if I am on Team Labor or Team Greens, and probably never will be now. 

Abbott has recently reminded us that he also belongs to Team Britain, or perhaps more accurately Team England (his birthplace and source of political values) in his emotive and unhelpful entry into the Scottish independence referendum question. He showed there a remarkable ignorance of the serious and responsible nature of that vital debate in Scotland – a source nation for many Australians – and its possible outcomes. This did not stop him barracking aggressively from the sidelines for what he imagines to be Team Britain: a concept of a nation that no longer exists except