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Turnbull’s new citizenship reforms fail the Aussie ‘values’ test

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.

Image: Dutch immigrants arriving in Australia in 1954.

29 responses to “Turnbull’s new citizenship reforms fail the Aussie ‘values’ test

  1. Once again Fotis Kapetopoulos’ general argument is let down by some sloppy examples.
    He comments on the fact that “the values of democracy were founded in a small, dusty city in the Mediterranean 2500 years ago”. However, Athenian democracy was not what we now understand as “democracy” – it was elitist; had no universal rights; affected only a small proportion of Athenian society (an individual Greek city-state and in conflict with other Greek city-states that had other models, e.g. the warrior state of Sparta); it was focused and dependant on the educated, more philosophically-minded citizens of Athens; it was slave state, etc. Moreover, Athens had a longer preparation for democracy in the form of its writers and law-makers than have most modern democratic states, including Australia.
    Fotis refers to the selection of immigrants from Greece, Italy (generally European) as well as from the various SE Asian countries such as China and Vietnam (with their quieter Buddhist, Taoist or Confuscian philosophies). However, he then includes “Muslims”. This is not an ethnic group, it is the religion of many, mainly Middle-Eastern countries – and is a robust, evangelizing, uncompromising religion at that. Most European nations are, or have been, broadly “Christian” – certainly so in the major part of the history of immigration to Australia. Much of the Christian religion is now comparatively benign, or has become a cultural given with little impact (this may be said generally of Australia as it can be said of the UK and much of Western Europe in particular).
    Therefore, a very significant cultural difference has entered the situation, one that “multi-cultural” Australia has had little experience of. How it deals with this new situation may well determine just how “multi-cultural” Australia really is!

  2. Australia is a migrated country. lot of people came here from different countries and cultures. All this people are the part of Australian development in different ways . people from non-English speaking countries and people from English speaking countries are the part of Australian growth. so English is not only a reason of growth or development of the country. good skill and good logic are the unavoidable part of the Australian development that will come form English speaking countries as well as non English speaking countries. Australia need more migrants from different part of the world . to become the part of Australian community it is very impotent to give some considerations to them in English. that will certainly help for the very high growth of Australia in few years. help them to become Australian citizen.

  3. Excellent article. Privilege. It’s all about loss of White Anglo privilege to multicultural equality. Especially when the current Census ancestry statistics may, for the first time in Australia’s modern history, show those with UK ancestry in the minority. The previous census had Australians with UK ancestry at 51.7% and this had been dropping 2% each previous census….

    The decades of previous White Anglo social, cultural and economic privilege is being eroded by measures of equality, and the PHON 8% will vote for anyone who promises them the return of ‘their’ White Anglo privilege no matter how ridiculous and unlikely that actually is…… just shout the right things at them & their 8% will fall your way …..both sad and ironic…..

  4. One more point that needs to be made here: The ancient Greeks invented the concept of democracy……but they weren’t very good at it.

    Women were excluded from voting and public discourse.
    Socrates and Hypatia didn’t do so well with the ancient Greek version of democracy either.

  5. What a load of rubbish.

    Australia is the world’s most successful multi cultural country on earth because we have always managed our migration.
    Open borders is just a backdoor policy to suit anarchists and lefties too economically and socially illiterate to understand the real consequences of abandoning an orderly approach.

    There is nothing unreasonable in the lastest changes.

    1. This is not so. We have had many successful boat people who arrived as refugees, and it is only if recent times has this been closed against Human Rights. We are a disgrace to the world, when we turn away people who would be slaughtered if they remained in their own country. And you ask why don’t they join the queue? There is no queue they can join.

  6. What makes you think the test would restrict citizenship, skyblue?
    Firstly, the test is not designed to restrict immigration but to test the ability of citizenship applicants how well they’ve been able to memorise the correct answers to the questions when they sit their test. Values cannot be tested with a tick in the right box, they can only be tested by looking at actions.
    Secondly, it’s not even the stated purpose of the test to restrict immigration. This could only be achieved by issuing fewer temporary and permanent visas.
    Hundreds of thousands of immigrants some of whom have been living here happily for decades as permanent residents have never been asked whether they would uphold some vague and dubious notion of “Australian values”. Imagine the outcry if any government wanted to be assured by ALL immigrants that they will adhere to these values. Nope, couldn’t be done. But pick on a few thousand and make it about genital mutilation (which by the way anyone would be prosecuted for, even an Anglo-Australian surgeon), hey presto, islamophobia can officially run rampant!

  7. The point has been made already in passing. The reality of the current Australian population that goes through Australian schools, including all comers, is that functional literacy [functioning as a competent 12 year old in English] is lower than 90%. The obverse is that amongst the current Australian population, something like 10% would have trouble [on the basis of their literacy level] justifying their continued presence in this country. The problem with our legislators is that they do not even understand their own population, about whom they make so many unjustified statements and assumptions.
    This literacy situation should be called out for what it is!

    1. Tony. You prove that there are few differences between lies and isolated and dubious statistics.

      My thirteen year olds would have breezed last year through the 12 year old English test along with most of their classmates. Same goes for everyone I know. And before you ascribe any convenient assumptions to me, I know a lot of people from many different backgrounds.

      I’m calling bullshit on this silly notion of a lack of English literacy amongst the Australian population. Show me the evidence of this research and I guarantee I can pull it apart in minutes. It’s just more left wing ideology getting in the way of the facts.

      This 90% failure rate assumption is false and belongs with ‘lazy Australians’ crap we were fed in the 1970s.

      (But here is an interesting question: Would the pass rate go up if children of Non English Speaking Background were removed from the data? :)

    2. Tony
      From memory the classic Bell Curve distribution is always : around 10% of any population will have a IQ that’s noticeably below average ( and around % 5 will be seriously deficient ) and another 10% will have a IQ that’s noticeably above average.
      And the rest will be clustered at plus or minus a few points of the average.

  8. Fotis: Bravo for this opinion essay against the ignorance and/or the deliberate attempt by our PM Trumble/Stumble to further arouse fear and anxiety and a “them” and “us” division/s within our society – continuing on from the fear of others so well founded by John Dubya Howard – co-opting and early Pauline – then continued by Tony ‘stop-the-boats’ Abbott. The thing I have tried to uncover about Howard, Downer, Ruddock, Abbott and Trumble is there connection to any ethnicity other than the dominant Anglo. Where are their positively acknowledged kinship connections to Indigenous Australia – to other Indigenous connections – to Oceania – to East and South-East and North Asia – to the Indian sub-continent – to western Asia – to any of the ethnic and cultural traditions out of the whole vast continent of Africa or indeed of non-English speaking peoples out of Europe. I believe there are none. They have no true empathy – they live in a cocoon of self-indulgent pride in the narrowness of their family roots – hearkening always to part of that small island off the coast of France – and to the part which has always claimed the power – England and its south-east power base of London. Sad. Hence the straight faces when making outrageous claims about English as if those coming here do NOT want to be fluent in it (I spent years in the TESOL field in Australia [and abroad – Europe AND Asia] – teaching English and Australia’s diversity of cultural expression to children and adults) and nothing could be more twisted and further from the truth. (We might expect that our politicians prove fluency in an OZ Indigenous tongue and an Asian language in order to stand for office in return, though.) In any event – now that we really have on full display their knuckle-headedness – shouldn’t all Federal Parliamentarians prove their single Australian passport citizenship (having no other loyalty) and sit whatever citizenship test is being prepared – to: (a) prove their own competencies to us all; and (b) reveal the idiocy of this exercise in demeaning our fellow residents/citizens-to-be. That’s the thing, really – a total lack of respect to our wider human family – suggesting racism is the hidden ingredient (not so hidden)!

    1. Jim KABLE: There are over 200 separate nations in the world, most with their own languages. There are at least 180 aboriginal languages in Australia. Why single out an ‘Asian’ language for special treatment? And which aboriginal language do you suggest our pollies must be able to speak? One you are fluent in?

      In Australia as in the international sphere, English is the common language understood by the most people. It is the world’s most common second language.

      There is no reason why we shouldn’t expect migrants to speak a reasonable level of English in order to live here. There are far more people wishing to come to this country than we can manage.

      I know plenty of people who have migrated from all over the world across decades. Most of them have worked hard to look after themselves and additionally to adopt Australian customs. It is much harder to do if you don’t speak the language.

  9. Unfortunstely Fotis is living in past when in the 1940,s,50,s 60,s ,70,s immigrants from Greece, Italy other Europeans , Vietnamese , Cambodians for example camecto Australia leaving begind what ever issues they were fleeing from and genuinely wished to assimilate , interstate , they did not wish for Australia to adopt tiger values or for Australians to change in any way their way of life nor did they pose a threat because of their extremist beliefs .
    The Jews are the best example where they weee genuinely fleeing for their lives came here did not pose a threat to Australian Germans for instance They did not expect Australians to adopt any of their religious beliefs not did Jews act as 5 th columnists .
    The reality is Muslim immigrants have not assimilated likevall other groups that there can be no denial .
    So whilst multiculturalism may have been successful back then tubes have changed and more importantly the mix of immigrants have changed you can not compare immigrants from Muslim mskotty countries to Greek immigrants that is for sure .

      1. Well said, John. My step-father at the dinner table in the 1950s/early 1960s (at which point I left home) railed in cowardly fashion inside our house (never outside, openly) against everyone of other-than-Anglo difference – the Wops the Dagoes, the Eyeties, the Balts (I heard “bolts”), the Reffos…none were welcomed in his eyes/the views of some of his mates/RSL drinking buddies – which is where much of it came from. Not from my mother. My brother and played with the neighbourhood kids – all from a variety of immigrant/refugee background – we were in and out of each other’s houses. Michael’s comments reveal a mix of ignorance and hope – but as you point out John – each group in turn has been rubbished and suffered discrimination till the next wave of immigrants or refugees of difference became the focus of “outrage”! As for Michael’s views on Jewish refugees I would ask that he go back and read how they were “welcomed” (as in not welcome) in the latter 1930s fleeing Hitler’s Germany – in fact lots of “the Dunera Boys” were brought here as internees along with Nazis and incarcerated in Internment Camps here – till finally some intelligence prevailed… The country needs people with big hearts and knowledge of our society to take on the role of Ministers – especially in the Immigration field – instead we have Peter Dutton – who fails miserably on both counts!

  10. Hm. I suspect that, ironically, Australians (not Caucasian or Asian blow-ins, like most people in Australia, including me) would fail to pass these tests, particularly the English language test.

  11. Defining a national set of values will be a two edged sword. From having worked on defining values in corporations I learned quickly the defining is not the last step or hardest step. Next will come measurement of behaviours against these values. That will mean government actions and policies are going to be constantly tested against those values. I look forward to that step wth glee.

    1. “New arrivals should commit to volunteerism and other community-minded activities as these represent an Australian value”
      Garry, you are absolutely right about the difficulty measuring the behaviour that is supposed to meet the set of values but who has defined these values that represent this nation; and what values truely represent Australia.
      Someone has to be disconnected from reality, fanciful, or both, to say that we are a nation that intrinsically values, and practices, volunteerism and community-minded activities (and that joining things like our children’s football club committees) are things that are open to immigrants who will have four years from arrival to ‘prove’ themselves.
      We are a nation that ‘when push comes to shove’ our citizens have demonstrated a community spirit.
      However, that spirit has come after feeling an included member of our community – it comes from being secure enough to put our community first.
      Those who choose to separate themselves from community or, especially, are excluded from a community, need to put themselves before the community to survive.
      People can belong to different communities; with different rules of inclusion, whether it is a businessman’s club, sports club, school, church, ethnic, gender, disability group, profession or employment group, suburb, street, apartment building etc.
      However, what if a person and their family are not made welcome/ are marginalised and they do not have a group to belong to?
      We do not have to be an immigrant to be in this situation and over the years we have seen the consequences in marginalised people with feelings of rejection, anger, agitation, alienation and depression.
      National values of respect, inclusion, acceptance, support involving our first citizens right through to our newest citizens and visitors need to be demonstrated by our Government and citizenry before we have the gall to demand that of our immigrants.
      As you say, ‘the government actions and policies are going to be constantly tested against those values”.
      They have not and will not measure up!

  12. Why restrict immigration? Because 100,0000 people a year are moving to Melbourne and GDP share is plummeting. It is not creating a sustainable society. Immigration is not bad, but expecting our country to hold more people than it can, is.

  13. My favourite story is about a man called Egon Erwin Kisch. Kisch thought Hitler wasn’t a nice man and travelled the world telling people that. He arrive here in about 1938, Mr Menzies thought Hitler and Mussolini weren’t bad lads really, just a bit high spirited.

    To enter Australia you had to pass a dictation test, but Kisch spoke about seven languages, so they tested him in Scots Gaelic. Which he failed. The dictation test, of course, was to keep the Chinese out.

    He wrote a book about all of it called ” Australian Landfall”.

      1. Was good value – good writer

        His WW1 diaries are among the better of the genre.

        Despite failing the test he got in anyway, if at the expense of a broken leg (jumped ship, literally), then won the subsequent High Court case

    1. Kisch was here in 1934. He was granted a visa by the British in Paris – and was on the high seas sailing towards Perth/Fremantle when it was realised he was THE Kisch! A political commentator/journalist of some renown. And fluent in about seven or eight languages. Panic stations.At Fremantle informed he would not be allowed to land – nor in Melbourne – his destination. But when the ship docked in Melbourne he jumped onto the pier – breaking a leg. So now having “entered” Australia – this new reality had to be faced. Put back aboard – the vessel sailed on to Sydney. Here he was faced with the Dictation Test – used to keep out any foreigners seeking entry who were of “colour” – whether of skin hue or political or as in some cases – of moral “colour”. Most Australians probably think it was a test of English – as with our current LNP government mob – but no – it was in any European language which the immigration authorities assumed the person would NOT know – fifty words. Egon E. Kisch was fluent in too many languages – finally it was suggested that Scottish Gaelic would be the test. Of course he was not fluent in that – but the use of that language was challenged – spoken – solely, so it was determined by only about 1% of Scots – it was disallowed – and Kisch was free to enter Australia – speaking to enormous rallies about what Hitler represented in Europe and to Germans and the possibility of war (his own brief incarceration part of his story). And then after some months he left – later publishing a book about Australia: “Australian Landfall.” Melbourne writer and friend of Kisch in Paris in the 1930s Hansi FOKS wrote a play about Kisch – to finance her post-war passage with her son to join one of the only relatives left alive in the world after Hitler’s Holocaust treatment of those of Jewish background.You are essentially correct, though, George – and especially in reference to Bob Menzies. Heidi ZOGBAUM wrote a book about his 1934-1935 visit – published in 2004 (Kisch in Australia: The Untold Story) and there is a witty poem: “Rondeau for Egon Kisch, who broke a leg jumping into Australia” by Tomoshenko ASLANIDES.

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