Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott attempted to defend his questionable use of the phrase “Team Australia”, which saw senior members of the Islamic community boycott a meeting on Monday, by claiming that an Imam called him the country’s “captain”.
On Monday, Mr Abbott said people migrating to Australia must “join our team”, prior to meetings with Muslim community leaders to discuss the government’s proposed expansion of anti-terror laws amid fears fighters radicalised in Iraq and Syria will return to the country.
The talks came before footage emerged of an English-sounding Islamic State fighter, believed to be part of a trio of British fighters, beheaded war journalist James Foley in the Syrian desert.
But leaders, including Ghaith Krayem, the head of the Islamic Council of Victoria, boycotted the meeting in response to Mr Abbott's comments. He said that he was offended by the suggestion that anyone who questioned the Prime Minister was automatically against Australia.
He added that the description of a migrant community was incorrect as nearly half of those he represents were born in Australia."
Krayem and Silma Ihram of the Australian Muslim Women’s Association, who did attend, said called Mr Abbott’s use of words “divisive”.
“[The prime minister] is doing very well at being divisive…referring to Muslim migrants when many are born here, giving short deadlines for meetings, little information, finger pointing that this is your problem and if you don’t fix it, we will. It doesn’t help to get respect,” Ms Ihram told the Guardian.
But Mr Abbott remained defiant and reiterated to Australia’s ABC broadcaster that he expects everyone to be on “Team Australia”. He then tried to explain why he adopted the phrase, and proceeded to label Muslim groups “petty” and “foolish” for boycotting the meeting.
“Well, obviously the most important thing is to talk and that's why I was disappointed that a small number of Islamic leaders, community leaders, thought rather foolishly boycotted that meeting, and I doubt that sort of thing will happen again because it's so self-evidently petty to do that kind of thing.
He continued: “I dare say not everyone would use the phrase but I've used it and I'll keep using it because I expect everyone to be on Team Australia.
“As one of the leading Imams said to me at the end of one meeting, we're all part of Team Australia and you're our captain.
"So I imagine that from time to time they would want a different captain but nevertheless, that's what he said, that we're all part of Team Australia and you're our captain."
As controversy surround anti-terror laws continues, the senior members of Australia’s Islamic community outlined their concerns in a letter on Thursday, including how they “unjustly target Muslims,” and that Mr Abbott is merely seeking approval for laws that they claim have already been decided, ABC News reported.