Scott Morrison: Australia, The Land Of Our Adoption

The Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Scott Morrison, has delivered a speech on immigration and multiculturalism in which he depicts Australia as a nation of “adopted children” and calls for Australians to honour their national inheritance.

MorrisonIt was delivered at the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, Kings College, London.

Morrison argues that Australia’s nationalism “is divorced from ethnicity, race and religion, disarming what is often a volatile and potentially negative combination”.

He says the “traditions, values and ethnic culture” of immigrants to Australia “are part of the process of transition from our old lands, culture and ways of life to the new that has been part of the national and cultural journey of Australians for centuries. It is an iterative process, taking place over a lifetime and generations, as we exchange and adapt the old for the new, bringing what’s best, leaving the rest and embracing over time a new national identity”.

Morrison points to Henry Parkes, Robert Lowe and WC Wentworth as examples of the inheritors of a “modern liberal democratic immigration nation” becoming its stewards.

The Howard government reoriented multiculturalism, says Morrison. It sought “to bring a greater focus on what communities had in common as Australians”, adopting a policy that “deliberately set out to explicitly recognize the supremacy of Australian values, the primacy of the English language, respect for existing institutions and adherence to the rule of law”.

Morrison says “Labor’s policy has moved away from this focus and reverted back to the more traditional emphasis on accommodating and promoting diversity, almost as an end in itself, as has long been practiced in the UK and Europe”.

Text of speech by Scott Morrison to the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies, at Kings College, London.

Our national anthem used to begin with ‘Australia’s sons let us rejoice for we are young and free’. We were right to change it and it was long overdue, but what was arguably lost in the change was the celebration of the fact that as Australians we share a special kinship.

The word ‘sons’ not only conveyed a sense of intimacy but also the notion that as Australians we are jocommonint heirs to an inheritance. Furthermore, as sons and heirs we have an obligation to responsibly steward that legacy.

For all but our first Australians we have been adopted into this land. Our national heritage is not a natural one. This creates an entirely different perspective on the relevance of race, ethnicity and religion to our national identity. In short, our kinship is blind to these factors.

While all of these elements certainly make up who we are as individuals, they do not define or limit who we are as Australians. As Australians, our nationalism is divorced from ethnicity, race and religion, disarming what is often a volatile and potentially negative combination.

This is not to downplay the contribution of the traditions, values and ethnic culture of the millions of Australians who have come to our shores, not the least being the liberal democratic institutions and Christian heritage of our British founders.

Instead, such contributions are part of the process of transition from our old lands, culture and ways of life to the new that has been part of the national and cultural journey of Australians for centuries. It is an iterative process, taking place over a lifetime and generations, as we exchange and adapt the old for the new, bringing what’s best, leaving the rest and embracing over time a new national identity.

Whether we become Australians by birth or by pledge, in adopting this land we adopt its heritage and we enter into the privilege of the legacy forged by those who’ve come before. That shared adoption binds us ever more closely together and transcends our physical differences. Each of us must answer a responsibility to honour and uphold the legacy of our national heritage – its values, its virtues but also its lessons.

There is no doubt our ethnic heritage is significant. But our adopted reality as Australians is even more important in determining who we wish to become and where we are heading. It is critical in informing where our responsibilities and loyalties must reside; and in setting the trajectory for our future.

Rather than limiting our national engagement to the experience of our own ethnic group or culture, we must encourage all Australians to equally access all of our stories – the indigenous, the settler, the federation-ist, the digger, the post war generation, the migrant and the refugee – to assist us in better understanding our path as a nation.

The idea of our kinship and shared legacy as adopted children as the basis for social cohesion in a modern liberal democratic immigration nation is not a new idea. It was the express vision of the father of federation, Sir Henry Parkes more than a century ago, remarking;

“What we are doing by this great Federal movement is not for us, but for them, for the untold millions that will follow us; until this land of Australia shall gather within its bosom all the fruits of the culture of the world; and until the flag of freedom shall be planted here so firmly and guarded with such a fervent patriotism, that all the powers on earth shall never assault it.”

And to those who were to inherit this legacy went the responsibility of stewardship;

Our children, with a fairer education of the common people, with finer prospects for all, will preserve the fabric of freedom which their fathers did something to erect. They will extend and solidify its foundations; they will bring under its shelter all the good and peace-loving people of the world.

In Robert Traver’s biography of Parkes he states ‘that like so many immigrants before and since, Henry and Clarinda found their ties to England loosening as their colonial born children bound them even more firmly to their new land’. Parkes told his wife;

“Yes, henceforth the country of my children shall be mine, Australia has provided me a better home than my motherland, and I will love her with a patriot’s love.”

Despite his numerous personal flaws and failures that often afflict politicians, Sir Henry Parkes made good on his promise to his wife, rising up to ensure that our most prized inheritance, especially appreciated by our most recent arrivals, our liberty, was realised and secured.

Parkes openly embraced the land of his adoption and fought hard against those who sought to stifle this new world by imposing the cultural baggage of the old world they left behind.

In 1850 Parkes was a humble toy shop proprietor and a leading advocate for liberal reform. He wrote to the Reverend John Dunmore Lang offering himself as campaign manager for the forthcoming Legislative Council elections, expressing his desire to ‘enrol in the league for the entire freedom and independence in this land of my adoption and of my children’s birth’.

While well known in his own right, Parkes did not satisfy the property qualification for election to the Council and had taken on the role of political organiser and activist. For some time he had banded together with fellow artisans, journalists, business people, working men and merchants in his small Sydney store and at Piddington’s bookshop.

The group were largely bounty migrants from the 1830s, sharing an aspiration that the new world they had come to would give them access to the opportunity and liberty not available to them in their old land.

Land reforms, self government, electoral reform, universal suffrage (understood as male suffrage at the time) and the abolition of convict transportation were the rallying points for their association.

Their agenda recognised that political and economic liberty went hand in hand. Rather than seeing Australia’s future as a sheep run dependent on the wool trade, where land was locked for the few and immigrants could only aspire to a new form of serfdom, Parkes’ economic vision for Australia was far more participative.

Parkes and his group saw a diversified, growing and open domestic trading economy with manufactures and other industry to support a growing population of free citizens, whose entrepreneurialism, labour and capital could be rewarded on the basis of effort, application and merit rather than patronage and class.

Parkes and his associates also understood the importance of social and civic reforms that would lead to the betterment of the citizenry and the society more broadly. The most obvious of these was their commitment to public education, but also the need for the development of non government institutions that were essential for a more progressive society, through their commitment to civic and charitable causes. If the new colony was to be self governing then the colony must also embark on an active programme of self improvement.

In many ways, their cause and agenda was a simple reflection of their own personal experience.

Parkes’ political, economic and social vision of an inclusive future was a direct threat to the established interests that had already asserted themselves and were seeking to consolidate their hold during what all knew was a critical time in the colony’s development..

In their view, if there were to be self government it should transfer power from Downing Street into their own hands – to a new Colonial aristocracy, what was later ridiculed as a bunyip aristocracy. The contradiction of the land owner’s position is difficult to avoid.

No one could nor should doubt the contribution of the early settlers and pioneers. They were the back bone of the colonial economy, and this had been achieved as a product of their own inspiration, perspiration, sacrifice, cunning and entrepreneurial efforts. They had endured the hardships, they had taken the risks. They may well have been in the right place at the right time, and benefited significantly from the public indulgences of an infant colony but it was not unreasonable that such contributions should be acknowledged.

The rub came when such recognition was being sought at the expense of those who would then seek to follow their example and realise their own aspiration and opportunity. It was un-Australian.

A new generation of Australians, following these early pioneers, said no. They would not be denied their adopted ‘birthright’ as Australians – namely to access the opportunity and liberty afforded by this new land, where all can aspire and apply their efforts to achieve their ambitions, unencumbered by their old world standing.

The conservatives dismissed Parkes as a ‘rocking horse vendor’, who had no place in the colony’s polity. Parkes response was direct and simple – he picked a fight.

In 1848 Parkes took on the greatest political force in the colony, arch colonial conservative, pastoralist and pioneer William Charles Wentworth.

WC Wentworth was the son of Catherine Crawley, a convict, who gave birth prior to her arrival at Norfolk Island in August 1790. His father was D’Arcy Wentworth, a charming and handsome Irish surgeon who came to Australia above deck on the Neptune as the assistant surgeon, the same ship as John Macarthur and his family.

After thrice being charged, but never convicted as a highwayman, his patron Lord Fitzwilliam, thought it best that D’Arcy go to the colony for a new start.

In Australia D’Arcy thrived, becoming one of the foundation men of the colony serving in various civil roles, establishing the Bank of New South Wales and building the Rum Hospital. Like John Macarthur, D’Arcy amassed a significant fortune derived from significant land grants totalling 17,000 acres, convict labour and Government licenses, which were the key ingredients of the early colonial economy.

WC Wentworth inherited his father’s adventurous spirit. Schooled in London he returned to the colony, securing his own land grants, including 1000 acres for joining up with Blaxland and Lawson to cross the Blue Mountains, 200 years ago this year. He returned to London to become a lawyer where he published a voluminous tome on the advantages of emigrating to the colony, where he argued for the realisation of British liberty for its citizens.

The young Wentworth had become a champion for the colony and embodied the hope and opportunity it possessed. He was the product of the more liberal, pragmatic and optimistic tone brought to the colony by the emancipist Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

Macquarie understood, as a military pragmatist, that applying old world restrictions on a new world settlement would retard its progress and compromise the mission. Macquarie had roads to build, courts to establish, laws to enforce, new lands to open up, and an economy to build. Like Arthur Phillip before him, Macquarie knew the colony had to come to terms with this new land. Simply seeking to transplant the old to the new was a recipe for failure.

Wentworth returned to Australia and continued to build his fortune where, post Macquarie, he clashed regularly with Government House over his interests and became a prominent member of the Legislative Council.

Despite his success, Wentworth was shunned by established society, on account of his parentage and subsequent marriage to a former convict. Wentworth would never cease in his craving for recognition and acceptance.

While rejected socially, fellow land holders were never shy in relying on Wentworth when it came to politics, and protecting their access to cheap land and cheap convict labour.

The ground for Parkes’ confrontation with Wentworth was in his electorate of East Sydney.

They chose Robert Lowe as their champion – a skilled debater and successful barrister who could captivate the crowds with his entertaining and erudite speeches. Lowe had demonstrated his independence from the conservatives in the Legislative Council with his strong views on education and land reform.

An outrageous gerrymander and restricted franchise in favour of the pastoralists and squatters meant that control of the Council was never on offer at the election. What was on offer, was the opportunity to define the political agenda and create a momentum for change.

Through the election of Lowe, Parkes successfully defined the agenda and framed the key reform questions now facing the colony – education, land and electoral reform, self government, anti-transportation and the need to foster a more vibrant and diversified economy, through infrastructure development, railways and more affordable communications.

Parkes also demonstrated he was a political organiser without compare and had created a political machine that could harness the support of growing middle class which could no longer be ignored, whether in Whitehall, Government House or Macquarie Street, as the amateur antics of a ‘rocking horse vendor’.

Parkes described Lowe’s election as the ‘birthday of Australian democracy’.

By 1850, Lowe had returned to London and Parkes needed a new champion in the parliament. While Parkes did not share his strong republican beliefs, Reverend Lang’s profile and strong stance on core reform issues, including federation, recommended him for the job.

Once again, Parkes launched his political juggernaut and Lang was successful in entering the Council. In that same year Parkes established The Empire newspaper which promoted the liberal democratic cause for the next seven years.

By 1853 transportation was history and the Australian colonies had been invited to draft their own Constitutions. In 1854 Parkes was himself elected to the Legislative Council in a by election, symbolically filling the vacancy created by Wentworth himself.

The discovery of gold and rise in prosperity also advanced the reformist cause. Gold quickly became the driving force of the colonial economy. Not only did it diminish the economic dominance of the pastoralists but it terminated any argument for the renewal of transportation.

A year later the House of Commons approved a new Constitution for New South Wales with self Government and a fully elected Assembly which sat for the first time in May 1856.

The whirligig of colonial politics saw a succession of Governments formed and disbanded, with the Governments of Cowper and Robertson ultimately gaining some traction, enacting a further series of electoral and land reforms, in line with Parkes’ agenda.

As the 1862 land reforms passed through the Parliament, WC Wentworth sailed out of Sydney heads. His dream of a new Britannia in the new world was over, so he returned to the old one.

Ironically, it was not until his final days in the colony and after the reforms had been won that Wentworth finally received the social recognition he had so desperately craved, hosting the Governor and his Lady at his Vaucluse residence for the first time.

The achievement of self government and the many other liberal reforms had ensured Australia had taken the first important steps to becoming a genuine meritocracy, where equality of opportunity was the goal, and the outcomes were left to the enterprise and endeavour of the individual.

Parkes’ reforms ensured that in Australia there would be a fair go for those who would have a go, paving the way for the waves of peace loving peoples who would follow his migration experience, as Australia gathered ‘within its bosom all the fruits of the culture of the world’.

Over the next 34 years Parkes would serve as a Colonial Secretary and lead five colonial governments, before championing the cause of federation. His achievements were significant, most notably through the introduction of public secular education and his committed stance as a free trader. His activity and reformist zeal left few areas of public administration untouched as he sought to create the society and economy that were necessary to protect and build on the political liberties he had secured.

Despite his passionate embrace of his adopted land, Parkes was not immune from old world prejudices, most notably sectarianism.

In a speech on Irish Immigration delivered in the NSW Legislative Assembly in October 1869 he declared;

“I do not want to see this colony, which is the birthplace of my children, converted into a province of the Pope of Rome. I do not want to see the majority of the people of this colony of the Roman Catholic faith. I do not wish to forget that I belong to a nation which is eminently Protestant.”

He observed that during the previous nine years;

“…there were imported into this colony at the public expense 20,768 migrants. Of these only 4349 arrived from Great Britain and 14,876 of them were from Ireland. It is easy to see that under such a system this colony will no longer be a British colony but an Irish colony.”

This was not an isolated intervention as sectarianism was rife in colonial society. His prosecution of would be royal assassin Henry James O’Farrell as Colonial secretary and associated with McCathyist witch hunts in search of a Fenian conspiracy were appalling.

Whether Parkes’ own sectarian prejudice was a function of populist politics or deeply held conviction is unclear, what is clear is that it coloured his judgment, compromised good policy and in one case perverted the course of justice.

The importation of old world sectarian conflicts did nothing to advance our national cause, proving only to divide communities and demonize thousands of Australians, and deny the nation the full benefit of their contribution. These times in our early modern history illustrate the danger of clinging to the prejudices, practices and conflicts of our old lands.

The importation of sectarian prejudice is one of the worst examples of how British and Irish migrants failed to leave their old world troubles at home, and Parkes was no exception.

Those of us of British and Irish descent should keep this in mind when criticism is made of more recent arrivals to Australia for carrying on their old world conflicts in their new land. It took us more than a century to get over our sectarianism, and for some it still rings true.

Sir Henry Parkes spoke of a land that would gather all the culture of the world under a flag of freedom. And so it came to be that a country that began with the largest single migration to that point in history would become arguably the world’s most successful immigration nation.

You all know the story I’m sure – more than 770,000 refugees have been resettled since the Second World War and we have welcomed more than 7.2 million migrants from around the globe.

Each generation has their own unique story; from those who came from old England to seek a better life in the colony; or from Asia to seek their fortune on the goldfields to those who came from Europe and New Zealand to fight alongside us, shedding their blood in defence of their Australia and to those who came from a war-wounded world to build the Snowy Mountain Hydro Scheme and modern Australia.

That tradition continues to this day; one in four Australians were born overseas.

However, this success story is no accident. It is the result of a carefully planned, merits based, non-discriminatory and orderly immigration program that has, by and large, received the overwhelming support of the Australian community.

Supporting that migration program has been a settlement policy that is supposed to be about enabling people to adopt their new society by embracing our values, learning English, getting a job and getting involved in Australian life.

For the past four decades multiculturalism has dominated the policy orthodoxy on social cohesion in Australia. The primary focus of multiculturalism has been to build an appreciation of ethnic and cultural diversity to combat intolerance and discrimination that was denying Australians the opportunity to fully participate in Australian life. It has had success in this regard.

The Howard Government’s policy statement, A New Agenda for Multicultural Australia, sought to shift this emphasis of multicultural policy and adopted the term ‘Australian multiculturalism’ to bring a greater focus on what communities had in common as Australians.

The policy deliberately set out to explicitly recognize the supremacy of Australian values, the primacy of the English language, respect for existing institutions and adherence to the rule of law. Labor’s policy has moved away from this focus and reverted back to the more traditional emphasis on accommodating and promoting diversity, almost as an end in itself, as has long been practiced in the UK and Europe.

While I consider there are very real differences between the situations in UK and Europe with Australia, I believe the efforts of Prime Minister Cameron and Chancellor Merkel to speak frankly about the performance of multiculturalism in their own countries and seek out a new post multiculturalism agenda is a positive step that we should also not be afraid of.

I am always personally reluctant to use the term multiculturalism as it simply means too many things to too many different people and increasingly runs the risk of fuelling division and polarising the debate, which is the antithesis of what it is supposed to achieve.

The question should not be whether one is for or against multiculturalism.

We should acknowledge in the debate, as I do, that a consensus has emerged on the existence and benefits of ethnic, racial and religious diversity in our society. Having affirmed this consensus we must then ask what practical policies are needed to remove the new barriers that are emerging.

What matters is not what we call a policy but whether it works.

After four decades of focusing on promoting the virtues of diversity, with myriad taxpayer funded programmes, I am uncertain that lack of appreciation of diversity is the principal barrier to economic and social participation for Australians of different ethnic, racial or religious backgrounds and affiliations. It is more likely that such barriers are specific to particular communities, often within these groups, and located in discrete geographic locations. The remedies are therefore more likely to fall within the domain of more mainstream social and economic portfolio policy areas.

The 2012 social cohesion study for the Scanlon Foundation affirmed these points. The study found that once again that there is broad acceptance of the existence and benefits of cultural diversity within our society. However they also discovered an increasing level of frustration and disaffection amongst Australians living in specific areas of high ethnic concentration, caused by perceived social and economic failure in these communities and an increasing level of what I would term self imposed cultural withdrawal.

It surely cannot be the purpose of multicultural policy that Australians elect to disengage from our society for religious, cultural or ethnic reasons.

This sounds a warning about the need to take a more bespoke approach to these issues and restore some balance by ensuring that we are more focused on promoting what we have in common rather than how different we all are.

We must also send a strong message that cultural tolerance is not a license for cultural practices that are offensive to the cultural values, and laws, of Australia and that our respect for diversity does not provide license for closed communities. This is not what Australia is all about. It is also in direct conflict with the overwhelming experience, spirit and practice of immigration to Australia; where people have come to join us, not change us.

Parkes’ notion of us being adopted sons and daughters provides a strong basis for a post multiculturalism approach, taking us beyond our ethnicity, race and religion and working to define our identity together as Australians in this land.

The approach also assists us better connect with our indigenous population. As adopted children, we share an equal inheritance with the natural children of this land, thereby accessing a heritage that extends back as far as time itself.

In 2008 we undertook the national apology. The significance of seeing our status as adopted children means that rather than conceiving this apology as an act of one people to another, it becomes an act of internal Reconciliation, between the adopted and natural children of our land, unifying us all, as one family.

By taking this perspective, we can see ourselves as Australians beyond the limits and experience of our own ethnic group or culture, and embrace a more inclusive national identity, and as Australian sons and daughters honour the values, virtues and lessons of our complete heritage in order to condition our society and set our direction and priorities for the future.

The other element that needs to be acknowledged is the need for patience.

As I have noted with the references to sectarianism, becoming adopted sons and daughters of Australia can take time and is an interactive process. Our policies must provide that space and time to make the adjustment, however there can be no question about our commitment and conversion to the goal. This commitment must be made up front and backed up with a track record of contribution. In my view, this is what becoming a citizen should be all about.

Citizenship is the proclamation of our commitment to embrace our adoption as sons and daughters of this land, to honour the legacy and heritage of those who have gone before us and to strive to protect the freedoms and values that they have paid forward. It should never be given away lightly.

On Australia Day thousands more will take the pledge to become Australian citizens. The rest of us have the opportunity to take a good look around us, remind ourselves of just how good most of us have it and declare, like Parkes, “our love as a patriot’s love” for the land of our adoption .

Happy Australia Day.

Print Friendly