News & Commentary Turnbull’s new citizenship reforms fail the Aussie ‘values’ test By Fotis Kapetopoulos | April 23, 2017 | I am confused. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says we are “the most successful multicultural nation in the world”. So why do we need to restrict our migration processes again? Turnbull says our nation is not based on a notion of “ethnicity, religion or culture”. So are we no longer confident of our democracy’s capacity to integrate those who come here? The Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten’s response to the Government’s plans to make migration and citizenship tests tougher is equally perplexing. “I think it is reasonable to look for English-language proficiency, and I think that it’s reasonable to have some period of time, waiting time, before you become an Australian citizen,” Shorten said. This is a man who represents Maribyrnong in inner-west Melbourne, one of the most ethnically diverse areas in Australia. English speakers did not build the diverse businesses, temples and churches of Little Saigon and Little Addis Ababa in Footscray. Nor did English speakers build the businesses, temples and churches of the post-war Italians or of the Latin Americans who arrived in that area in the 1970s. Our multiculturalism has been successful, because of our non-discriminatory immigration, not in spite of it. “Our parents came to Australia with no English, they called them wog, they cleaned Anglos’ offices and houses and look at us now, we collect rent from them” – comedian and barrister Costas Kilias. Former Liberal MP Petro Georgiou, an architect of our Multicultural Policy under Prime Minster Malcolm Fraser, said in a 2007 speech that since Australia instigated its massive immigration program in 1949 “successive governments have chosen an inclusive approach to citizenship.” He said: “Discrimination against non-English speaking migrants was ended; English-language requirements were eased; residency requirements were reduced and then made equal for all; discriminatory voting privileges were addressed; dual citizenship was allowed; and all were required to attend a citizenship ceremony. The belief was that if we encouraged and embraced migrants who wanted to become Australians, we would build a better and stronger nation.” Georgiou forensically dismantled misconceptions underlying the arguments for immigration restrictions based on English language, or suggestions of cultural values. He proved that “inclusiveness of our approach to citizenship has been sustained through massive changes in the racial and cultural composition of our migrant intake.” In the early 1980s some thought the increase in Asian migration would bring cultural catastrophe. In 1984 the historian Geoffrey Blainey lamented that Bob Hawke’s Labor Government suggested the arrival of non-European would result in a culture clash. He said: “Rarely in the history of the modern world has a nation given such preference to a tiny ethnic minority of its population as the Australian Government has done in the past few years, making that minority the favoured majority in its immigration policy” But we have benefited culturally, socially and economically from Asian migration as we have and continue to benefit from all migration. “There is a greater chance of being left behind in a new Australia if your lower-income parents are ‘white’ and were born here, than if they came by boat from, say, Vietnam.” George Megalogenis in Fault Lines. In 1996 Pauline Hanson revived the ‘Asian peril and now she’s concerned about Muslims. Former Prime Minister John Howard tilted towards the fear. Yet, regardless of his cruel refugee policy and undermining of a bipartisan multicultural policy, Howard presided over one the largest periods of Asian immigration since World War II. Australia has managed better than European, African, Middle Eastern and Asian nations in dealing with diversity and immigration. I would rather be a Bangladeshi in Australia than in Greece, I’d rather be a Zimbabwean in Australia than South Africa, and I’d rather be Orthodox Christian here than in the Middle East, with the exception of Israel. We have no Ausländers; we have Australian citizens and residents. As long as one abides by the laws of the land, the contract between state and citizen is secure. So what what concerns Government and Opposition so much that resort to such baseless jingoism? Lack of adequate English has never diminished immigrants’ capacity to achieve. I was recently at a dinner with a group of Greek Australians. These children of non-English speaking immigrants were lawyers, property developers, architects, financial advisers and doctors, except for me. Comedian and barrister, Costas Kilias was there as well. Costas in a comedic riff said; “Our parents came to Australia with no English, they called them wog, they cleaned Anglos’ offices and houses and look at us now, we collect rent from them”. There are more Asians, more non-Anglos, many wearing Hijabs and sporting beards at our universities than redheads now. George Megalogenis more subtly suggests in Fault Lines; “There is a greater chance of being left behind in a new Australia if your lower-income parents are ‘white’ and were born here, than if they came by boat from, say, Vietnam.” I spoke no English when I entered primary school. My father and mother learned English from TV, work and newspapers. When my father arrived he spoke Greek and Italian. There are more Asians, more non-Anglos, many wearing Hijabs and sporting beards at our universities than redheads now. The stats do not add up. Most immigrants arriving here actually speak English. For those that struggle with English, the issue is about how we can enhance their English language skills. Many are working hard and have no time to learn. The Menzies Government that presided over post-War migration provided free English language lesson to migrants, as did Whitlam, Fraser and Hawke. Should we not be talking about better services? Respect for women and domestic violence was also raised as an issue in this new push. However, neither Turnbull or Dutton mentioned that welfare agencies and advocates from within non-Anglo communities are working to stop domestic violence in their communities. Research from the 1970s to now suggests domestic violence is no higher in immigrant communities than in Anglo Australian ones. The impact of domestic violence towards women in new immigrant communities is an additional burden to issues of isolation, poverty, language barriers, family and cultural expectations. It is the work by their advocates and media in that helps women trapped by domestic violence. The effort of SBS journalist Manpreet Singh in Punjabi to raise the issue of domestic violence in the Indian community has increased the number of Indian women seeking help from the national sexual violence and domestic help line 1800RESPECT. The values of democracy were founded in a dusty, small city in the Mediterranean 2500 years ago — not Melbourne, Canberra, or Sydney. Another assertion in the proposed changes to the citizenship test is that new arrivals should commit to volunteerism and other community-minded activities as these represent an Australian value. This takes no account of immigrants’ volunteerism in building their community houses, churches, temples and mosques. Immigrant community infrastructure is premised on volunteerism. Gill Bottomley in After the Odyssey pointed to how Greeks developed communities, churches, welfare, legal and medical services, shopping strips, to accommodate their needs as part of what he termed, ‘institutional completeness.’ I see that on a daily basis in my work. The Australian values argument is spurious and is the same argument used against Jews seeking refuge here after the Russian pogroms. The same argument was made against Italians, against Greeks, Chinese, Vietnamese and now Muslims. It’s idiocy. If our unique values are ‘egalitarianism’ and ‘fair go’ then the proposed changes are far from that. In 1912 the Greek area of Kalgoorlie was razed and Greeks beaten up due to suspicions that the Greeks may shift to the side of the Germans in World War I. “A mob of soldiers and civilians attacked the Greek-run oyster saloons, fruit and confectionary shops, cafes and restaurants. They shattered the windows, ripped apart furniture, looted stock, tore out fittings, and intimidated Greek residents. The rioters boarded tramcars to the town of Boulder where they continued their rampage against Greek-run businesses. Terrified Greek families sought refuge in private homes. At its peak the mob numbered an estimated 2000.” Instead, Greeks played a pivotal role in the support of ANZACS in Gallipoli, a role oft forgotten in the annunciations of the bond build between Turks and Australians at that slaughter. And what are Australian values? The values of democracy were founded in a dusty, small city in the Mediterranean 2500 years ago — not Melbourne, Canberra, or Sydney. We are not even a republic, we have no Bill of Rights, and we still pay heed to a foreign power that has largely forgotten us. If our unique values are ‘egalitarianism’ and ‘fair go’ then the proposed changes are far from that. Apart from the shift from European to South Eastern and South Asian sources of immigrants, there have been no other major changes in our migrant intake. The Middle Eastern component of our total migrant intake has remained at around 5% for the last 30 years. The proportion of migrants from Africa has increased by 6%, primarily due to enlarged numbers from South Africa and Zimbabwe and, over the last decade, 21,000 Sudanese refugees. As Georgiou highlights: “In the decade following the fall of Saigon, we took in 100,000 Indochinese, constituting 12% of our total migrant intake. By contrast, the Sudanese comprised 2.1% of our intake over the last decade.” The statistics contest the assertion that taking in migrants from cultures far removed from our own confronts Australia. Australia met that challenge over 30 years ago when our migrant intake altered from Europe to Asia. There is no cultural or religious requirement to being Australian. We do not have to pay a levy to a Church, a Mosque, or Temple. If you break the nation’s laws, then you might have your rights diminished by the state. Clearly, this is one more effort by the LNP and Labor to sure up One Nation votes. It also sustains Turnbull’s Faustian pact with the hard right of his party and reveals a total disregard for coherent social and economic policies needed to progress Australia. [box]Image: Dutch immigrants arriving in Australia in 1954.[/box] Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn Email About the Author: Fotis Kapetopoulos Fotis Kapetopoulos heads Kape Communications Pty Ltd that runs; Athens Burns Bright and Bite the Big Apple! New York City cultural ecology tours. He was the Senior Multicultural Media and Policy Adviser to Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu. He was the Editor for the English edition of Neos Kosmos, Australia's leading Greek media outlet. He headed Multicultural Arts Victoria, was awarded a Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC Internship and an Asialink Arts Management Residency at the National Arts Council of Singapore.