Last week in an interview on 2GB radio, one of Australia’s most senior politicians, Peter Dutton, agreed with host Ray Hadley that “busload[s] of Asian Australians” were touring regional supermarkets and buying up supplies to sell overseas in the coronavirus outbreak. There were investigations into what he believed to be criminal behaviour, the home affairs minister added.
The evidence for this rumour is flimsy — amounting to a handful of talkback radio callers and two photographs of an empty bus in a parking lot — and other credible news organisations have been unable to substantiate it.
But the chat between a powerful politician and radio host illustrates how rumours and hoaxes designed to stoke racism against Asian Australians are making their way into the mainstream as the coronavirus pandemic spreads. And many of them are built off the trope that Asian Australians are selfishly stockpiling, hoarding and selling goods overseas for profit during the panic.
A specific type of anti-Chinese stockpiling narrative emerged following a 2008 food safety incident in China where 300,000 children became sick or died after being fed formula. Fears about the safety of Chinese products created a huge demand for Australian products, with up to 90% of Australia’s formula produce going to China as recently as 2018.
Since then, the Australian media has reported on “daigou” — personal shoppers who purchase goods from Australian stores to send send back to China — who have been blamed for perceived shortages of goods in Australia.
This narrative has been repurposed for the current pandemic. Last week, BuzzFeed News reported that posts from a fake Facebook account pretending to be a Chinese woman trying to recruit people to buy toilet paper to be sold overseas had been widely shared on social media.
Another extremely viral Facebook post recounts visiting a factory in Melbourne, Australia, and falsely alleges that “Chinese people [are] buying up all our stock from supermarkets” and exporting it overseas. The post has been shared more than 100,000 times.
This is unsubstantiated. Victoria Police “found these claims to be false” after a phone call with a company representative (although police declined to provide any details of their conversation with BuzzFeed News).