“We have not organised this to change the date. We have organised this to abolish Australia Day because fuck Australia … I hope it fucking burns to the ground”, Tarneen Onus-Williams told a cheering crowd at Melbourne’s Invasion Day rally.
The protesters were fired up, and so were the speakers. It felt like something could actually change when we realised our rally had easily outnumbered the official celebrations of Australian nationalism.
So it wasn’t a surprise that the Murdoch empire would strike back with a concerted campaign against Tarneen.
The attacks are very familiar to me. When the Murdoch press led the campaign against Safe Schools, they focused on my personal involvement in the program, described me as a “hardline Marxist” and did everything they could to undermine my employment.
They deployed ammunition in words, put together in supposed news, commentary and opinion. Well-known right wing figures such Miranda Devine, Andrew Bolt, Tim Blair, Janet Albrechtsen and others were wound up by their editors to spin the narrative and spit outrage.
The method is simple. First, the distraught conservatives attack whatever comment has been made. Then they search for any connection the target has to public money. Then they get personal, rinse and repeat.
In Tarneen’s case, Jeff Kennett got the ball rolling by telling her off for using “inappropriate language”. Then, Victorian Liberal leader Matthew Guy called the comments “a disgrace”.
Others, including Warren Mundine, were brought in to call on the Koori Youth Council to sack her from its board.
Sinking lower, the Daily Telegraph denigrated her physical appearance and the Daily Mail published a story about her brother appearing on a reality TV show.
A Crikey investigation described the Australian’s targeting and attacking of enemy individuals as “Holy Wars” and warned: “[E]veryone in the Australian public space is on notice: if you cross us, or our proprietor, his family, our worldview or our business interests, you could become the next victim of an Australian Holy War”.
The pace and volume of criticism are meant to overwhelm the target. When I posted on Facebook last year that the Australian flag is racist, the Australian ran 16 articles over 12 days totalling 8,798 words on the topic.
Yassmin Abdel-Magied became a target after a fairly mild tweet about remembering the plight of refugees on ANZAC Day. Her words were described in the Daily Telegraph as the “ultimate insult to Anzac legend” and “a sickening insult to the nation’s war dead”.
The usual chorus joined in calls for her to be sacked from the ABC. Bigot MP George Christensen suggested self-deportation might be the answer. Yassmin now describes herself as “the most hated Muslim in Australia”.
So much for defending free speech.
Award-winning Aboriginal filmmaker and NT Australian of the Year Warwick Thornton faced the same backlash in 2010, when he warned about the increasing levels of nationalism on Invasion Day. “We don’t want to turn the Southern Cross into a swastika, that’s bloody important.”
The vitriol and abuse he faced led him to produce a documentary based on the experience. The resulting film, We Don’t Need a Map, was released last year.
The Murdoch empire wants everyone on board with Tony Abbott’s “Team Australia”: love it, leave it or face the consequences. This becomes especially ridiculous when you’re talking about Indigenous people.
So, if you are yet to commit your life and your first born to the defence of the great nation of Australia, and you have any public profile, you too could become a target for Murdoch’s empire. May the force be with you.