Malcolm Turnbull invoking patriotism is unsettling

What does it mean to be a patriot?

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

It’s a word that barely even warrants a place in the Australian lexicon.

Is it simply to be proud of one’s own heritage, of one’s own country of origin?

Or has it come to mean something far more sinister than that?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a patriot as “a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors”.

It’s that last part that rings most true in contemporary Australia.

Here, patriotism is about stopping the boats and protecting the so-called Australian way of life.

It’s about warding off the imagined bogeyman that is Sharia law and safeguarding our beloved national cuisine from halal.

This mentality goes back a long way, of course – thanks, White Australia - but the particular stink our brand of patriotism gives off today can be traced to the rise of the United Patriots Front.

The UPF formed in the wake of the 2014 Lindt Café siege, splintering off from the extreme right Reclaim Australia group.

It has held numerous protests and rallies around Australia since 2015, condemning the Islamic faith and advocating for a complete ban on Muslim immigration.

Even more recently, US President Donald Trump tapped into the deep well of American patriotism during his campaign, sparking ugly displays of nationalistic fervour at his rallies.

So, when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull got up in Parliament on Monday and called for those who sought Australian citizenship to join the nation as “Australian patriots”, there were people who bristled.

When the public’s most recent points-of-reference for the idea of patriotism are a homegrown hate group and a populist American President who’s inspired a new wave of white nationalism, there’s really only a couple of ways the usage is going to be interpreted.

“We should make no apology for asking those who seek to join our Australian family to join us as Australian patriots; committed to the values that define us,” the Prime Minister said.

Mr Turnbull’s comments came as the government prepared to introduce legislation to make it harder to obtain citizenship in this country.

But what are these values he speaks of?

The Prime Minister’s messaging on this has been flawed at best.

He hasn’t been able to articulate exactly what it is he means when he mentions Australian values.

Perhaps he’s talking about mateship, a fair go or – God forbid – multiculturalism. 

Because this is what I think of when I think of the Australian way of life.

Maybe the values Mr Turnbull is talking about are actually those of the conservatives within the Liberal Party, or even the One Nation power brokers in the Senate.

Indeed, they’re probably the same values which many of us share, just with certain qualifications.

Mateship is great - but only between certain racial groups.

Everyone should get a fair go – except Muslims.

Multiculturalism has its advantages - but only if you let in the right people.

The more we talk about defending Australian values, however, the more we risk fomenting division.

And isn’t that what gives rise to radicalisiation in the first place?