A fundraising campaign has been launched to reinstate an Australia Day billboard featuring two Muslim girls wearing hijabs, after it was taken down when threats were made to the company responsible.
Supporters are also showing the full version of the image that was used in the original ad. It shows two young girls smiling and holding Australian flags.
— Richard Tuffin (@RichardTuffin) January 17, 2017
“If you or your business thinks this is not ok, please help us fund a billboard and print campaign featuring these two girls promoting Australia Day,” the campaign page says.
“The more money we raise, the more places we can run the ad. And if you’re a company or organisation willing to donate $1500 or more, your logo will appear on the ad to show your support for an inclusive Australia.
“Any left over money will be donated to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.”
By 12.45am on Wednesday, the campaign had raised $11,580 of a $50,000 goal in only a few hours.
Donors to the campaign, launched by Dee Madigan, include Labor MP Terri Butler and social commentator Jane Caro.
The ad was taken down after threats were made to the company that displayed it.
The digital advertisement in the outer Melbourne suburb of Cranbourne was hosted on a pro bono basis by QMS Media and displayed to promote an Australia Day event in Kings Domain Gardens organised by the Victorian government and sponsored by RACV.
On Tuesday, Victorian Multicultural Affairs Minister Robin Scott confirmed the billboard had been removed.
“It’s very disappointing to see a small minority attacking proud Australians for their love of their country,” Mr Scott said.
“While the ads have since been removed, anyone who considers this a victory needs a refresher on the true meaning of Australia Day.”
The digital advertisement used rotating images of several Victorians from various cultural backgrounds who were photographed during last year’s Australia Day celebrations.
Dubbed ‘too politically correct’ by critics, it generated furore on social media among far-right groups, including the United Patriots Front and anti-Islam Facebook pages.
“They’re making every effort to re-define your nation and gradually erase you from history,” UPF posted.
Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie also criticised the ad, sharing a post from the right-wing group Reclaim Australia, and writing: “What the? Where’s the bbq, the bikini babe, the hot Aussie male, and the beer? What is going on?”
QMS Media declined to comment on the nature of the threats it had received.
But The New Daily has seen threatening posts on social media levelled at the company, including one saying it should be “burnt to the ground”.
Another said whoever “authorised that should be taken out and shot for treason”.
Islamophobia Register president Mariam Veiszadeh said the billboard’s removal came amid a growing backlash against Australian Muslims.
“Increasingly, any visible portrayal of Australian Muslims or any diversity for that matter, in connection with a public campaign is becoming the subject of backlash from small but vocal parts of the community,” Ms Veiszadeh said.
“Last year Optus was forced to withdraw advertisements in Arabic from some of its stores because of a similar backlash and threats to staff, from people who ignorantly conflated the Arabic language with Islam and Muslims.
“My understanding is that the sign in question is actually a digital sign featuring rolling images of people from various cultural backgrounds.
“Only one of these images includes two Australian Muslim women and it appears that it’s only this image that has sparked furious debate.”
Islamic Council of Victoria vice-president Adel Salman said the two Muslim women in the advertisement were “as much Australian as anyone else”.
“We are proud Muslims and we are proud Australians,” Mr Salman said.
The Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria chair Eddie Micallef said backlash against multiculturalism was becoming “more aggressive”.
“That’s the real concern,” he said. “It’s on the edge of becoming violent.”
Mr Micallef said Australia Day was celebrated by migrants and refugees, many of whom were proud to become citizens during the annual official citizenship ceremonies.
“It should be a day of celebration and joy, not recriminations by a group of people who are struggling to come to terms with the fact that we have a multicultural society,” he said.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale said on Twitter he was “disgusted” by the campaign to have the sign removed.
“Racism has no place in our society,” he said.
An RACV spokeswoman said the company was proud to support the government’s Australia Day Festival, but did not comment on the billboard.
Victoria Police would not comment on whether the threats had been referred to police.