SYDNEY (AFP) - Tempers have flared over an Australia Day advertising campaign featuring children wearing Muslim headscarves, fanning debate over the meaning of the Jan 26 national holiday.
The image of the young girls wearing hijabs was removed from a Melbourne billboard this week after the advertising firm behind the campaign to promote the holiday, which was backed by the Victoria state government, received threats.
Far-right groups posted a picture of the poster on social media claiming it to be a misrepresentation of Australia Day and accused the government of being too politically correct.
In response, a crowdfunding campaign to raise A$20,000 to have the advertisement reinstated kicked off Wednesday and by late Thursday had received more than A$140,000 in pledges.
"The people who found it offensive are the same ones that complain 'the Muslims don't assimilate', and yet here we have two lovely girls celebrating Australia Day," the campaign's organiser, Dee Madigan, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The money raised will be used to publish the ad on billboards and in newspapers in major cities across the country from Friday, according to the campaign's page on the Go Fund Me website.
Weighing into the debate, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told Australian radio that images representing diversity in Australian society meant showcasing people from different backgrounds.
"I think it's great that we've got young girls, young boys from whatever background who are embracing Australian values, flying the Australian flag, proud to be Australian, proud to be part of our society," he said.
Dutton also took aim at the Australian Greens political party for failing to distance itself from a hard-left faction who have advocated the burning of the Australian flag, erecting protest banners and interrupting Australia Day activities.
Celebrated annually, Australia Day marks the arrival of the first English settlers more than 200 years ago, and is supposed to be a day of reflection on national achievements as new citizens are sworn in.
But for many people, particularly in the Aboriginal community, Australia's most disadvantaged group, it is known as "Invasion Day", when colonial forces began to take land and lives from the indigenous population.