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September 2006
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Daily Media Quotation

Solution Looking For The Problem

September 18, 2006

Editorial - Canberra Times

There is hardly anything more calculated to show some of the unattractive sides of the Australian character than an effort to find out the important and essential parts of the so-called Australian character and its way of life. It's bad enough when it is being done by individuals and special interest groups seeking reasons to exclude, punish or discriminate against various classes of the Australian community - as happens from time to time - and to justify their doing so by some supposed defence of our values.

It is even worse, and generally more divisive when it is being done by our politicians, from whichever side of politics, or from the complete fringe. The sure guide for the cynical, however, is that the worst rascals are those draping themselves with the Australian flag, pretending that they are telling us what we, as a community, think, or should think.

The latest chapter of the confected, and dangerous, argument about values comes with a discussion paper, issued yesterday by the parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs Andrew Robb.

Like all the intervention of late - whether they have come from Labor or from the Liberal Party - he is addressing a non-problem, if in terms suggesting that there is a problem. It invites, for example, a debate about whether migrants - or at least migrants who aspire to take up Australian citizenship, should be encouraged to learn English, and be tested, before being given citizenship, on their proficiency with it. Most Australians would think so. The way in which the question is thrown out would seem to suggest that the answer is yes, but that hitherto we have imposed no requirement. All credit then, the implication runs, to Mr Robb, and his wise colleagues and advisers, for putting the need for such requirements on to the agenda.

All decent Australians should rush to Mr Robb's website and click the yes button in the simplistic questions asked.

But Mr Robb is having a lend of us. The fact is that our citizenship laws have for a long time had such a requirement for a working knowledge of English. Likewise with requirements to show (and in English!) some basic understanding of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and aspects of the Australian way of life. There is no gap in our system - or, if there is a gap, it is one considerably narrower than he pretends.

There might, perhaps, be room for some discussion about whether such requirements should be strengthened, perhaps made more formal - and, indeed, there are good arguments that they could be strengthened. But having such an argument would not provide Mr Robb, or his fellow ministers, with anything like the opportunity to lecture and hector migrants, to pretend themselves (and implicitly only themselves) the definers and guardians of our values and our way of life, and, perhaps, even so covertly, to send out some signals to a section of the Australian community which exhibits marked hostility to some of our migrants, supposedly on the basis that they "do not fit in" and "do not share our values".

If that were the aim, of course, the Government, which has a discreditable record on respect for diversity in our culture, would be jostling in the scrum with Labor, which has, in recent times, decided to play games with the politics of inclusion and exclusion, and to pandering to hostility to migrants and "foreigners".

Muslims, people of Middle Eastern and sub-continental descent should take cover while the "discussion being provoked" generates a host of ignorant statements on talk-back radio - fuelled by the shock jocks - about whether it is possible for people of other religions to embrace mateship, the equality of women and the "fair go - whatever that currently means.

Residents of African, Indo-Chinese, Chinese and other Asian descent should also be prepared to be hit by some of the stray shrapnel.

Some Aborigines and some other Australian citizens by birth, who (by virtue of deficiencies in their education) could neither pass an English test nor an examination in Australian political science will no doubt watch in wonder. It is unlikely that they will be better informed about the privileges, or the rights of citizenship, from what the politicians, the shock-jocks or the "good old Aussies" who like to pontificate on our culture will tell them. If there was something which is, or ought to be, of the essence of our culture, indeed, it is the right and instinct of Australians to distrust such pseudo-patriots.

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