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‘Throw the Lying Rodent Overboard’ T-shirt #2014-0051

White t-shirt screenprinted with the image of a rat; printed black on the front and orange on the back.


The ‘throw overboard’ portion of the slogan on this t-shirt refers to the ‘children overboard’ affair. In 2001, senior political leaders, including Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock and Prime Minister John Howard,alleged that asylum-seekers threatened to throw their children into the sea from a Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel as a way of coercing Australian authorities to grant them safe passage to the mainland. Photographs of children in the water were used to support the allegations. The incident was used by the government to justify a strong stance on unauthorised migration. The incident occurred shortly before the federal election which saw the Howard government re-elected. A subsequent inquiry by a Senate select committee found no evidence that the asylum seekers had made any threats, that the photographs were taken after the boat sank, and that the government had deliberately misled the public; a minority report written by government senators backed the government’s version of events.

The enquiry was chaired by Liberal Senator George Brandis. An official in the Queensland Liberal Party alleged an exasperated Brandis said Howard was a ‘lying rodent’ and that it was Brandis’ job to ‘cover his arse’. The phrase was quickly picked up and disseminated by Howard’s detractors and opponents in the community at large, though Brandis vehemently denied using the term and swore under oath that he did not. Journalist Mike Seccombe reported that Howard had been privately known as ‘the rodent’ for many years, as ‘as a reference to the way Howard ceaselessly gnawed at [Andrew] Peacock’s leadership’.

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This t-shirt is of historical significance as an example of individual political activism. It refers to a number of incidents in the political career of John Howard, Australia’s second longest serving prime minister. Specifically, it refers to the 2001 ‘Children Overboard’ affair and the alleged description of Howard as a ‘lying rodent’ by a fellow Liberal parliamentarian. The t-shirt features a blunt and distinct message and refers directly to political events of the early 2000s. The t-shirt’s use of the term ‘lying rodent’ clearly marks it as a shirt opposed to Howard and urges voters to remove him from office.

The hand-made, non-professional nature of the t shirt’s decoration is also significant. This t-shirt was bought at a commercial outlet and then printed with a custom message, a symbol of democratic expression in a free society. Given the nature and tone of the message, it is likely that the t-shirt relates to either the 2004 or 2007 election and urges voters to vote John Howard out of office.

  • ‘Throw the Lying Rodent Overboard’ T-shirt - Front‘Throw the Lying Rodent Overboard’ T-shirt - Front —
  • ‘Throw the Lying Rodent Overboard’ T-shirt - Back‘Throw the Lying Rodent Overboard’ T-shirt - Back —


Width 735mm
Height 660mm
Creator’s name Ruth Waller
Date created 2000