I participated in a couple of citizenship ceremonies yesterday – community level ones with a good, personal feel about them. According to the Prime Minister’s speech the day before, the 50 or so people who participated in these two ceremonies were among 14 000 people from more than 70 countries who chose to become citizens yesterday. It is rather ironic that this occurred just after John Howard used his reshuffle to abolish the position of Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs.
I have not seen or heard any comment about this decision, but I am disappointed in it. I suspect the Prime Minister’s rationale would be that the senior Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Amanda Vanstone, no longer has to also deal with indigenous affairs, so there is less need for a junior Minister. She has been given a Parliamentary Secretary, Andrew Robb, to help her out instead. This is a return to the situation in the 1990s, when Philip Ruddock was Immigration Minister and Kay Paterson was his Parl Sec.
However, given the renewed debate about multiculturalism following the Cronulla riots, not to mention the Prime Minister’s own renewed assertions this week that “Australia’s ethnic diversity is one of the enduring strengths of our nation” and that “the time has come for root and branch renewal of the teaching of Australian history in our schools”, the continuing tensions over the future place of Muslims in our nation and the very large numbers of new residents coming to our country every year, it seems a strange time to downgrade Ministerial focus on citizenship and multiculturalism.
I have an article published in Online Opinion today which touches on some of these issues (comments welcome over on that site too). In short, I point out that over half a million people are given residency status in Australia each year (many others leave as well of course) and it is inevitable with such very large numbers that they will come from a very diverse range of cultures, beliefs and experiences. That high migration reality – which is multicultural in its most literal sense – should be the starting point of debates about multiculturalism, but unfortunately it often isn’t.
There is also an interesting piece on multiculturalism on Larvatus Prodeo, written by Peter Kemp, along with some good comments (and some bad comments too, but you get that). If you’re interested in the topic, it’s worth a read.
Getting back to the citizenship ceremonies, they were good events. People often talk about the sense of pride from the day they became a citizen, but as a person who was born in Australia, it gave me a bit of pride to see so many people willingly signing up to become Australians. There were people from all continents, and a wide age range, taking the citizenship pledge.
One of the ceremonies was in a community hall, and another was in a park overlooking Moreton Bay. A fine sunny day, birds flying overhead, plenty of trees for shade and the Bay in the background, a free native tree for every new citizen. All rather good really. And I even ran into my old teacher from Year 5 at school and met a friend I hadn’t seen for about 10 years. It was enough to make me able to sing the national anthem without cringing.