Citizenship & Australian-ness

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.

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  1. Tom

    I’ve listened to John Coulter talk about this topic innumerable times in the past and I know about Sustainable Population Australia. I spent the first few years of my time in the Senate specifically trying to expunge Coulter’s legacy of supporting zero net migration, so it perhaps shouldn’t surprise you that I am not sympathetic to his views.

    Perhaps what I should have said was it is impossible to credibly advocate a bigger humanitarian intake whilst similutaneously seeking to significantly cut back other migration. (although to be fair, some of the statements I have heard Mr Coulter make about asylum seekers would be hard to categorise as humanitarian)

    It is difficult enough to get public support for asylum seekers as it is, and there is already enough suspicion that they are mostly not ‘real’ refugees. Can you imagine what it would be like if virtually nobody else was allowed to migrate here except for refugees and related humanitarian cases?

    If there hardly any other way to migrate here, we really would have a problem with bogus asylum claims.

    I don’t avoid something I believe in just because it’s politically difficult (which might explain the amount of votes I get), but trying to implement such a policy would be a guarantee for major social resentment. There’s enough antagonism from some quarters towards bringing in refugees as there is, and in my experience it is always magnified (somewhat understandably) if people have trouble getting their family or spouses in.

    Anyway, as I’ve said elsewhere, I think the trend in our fertility rate is such that we can stabilise our population by mid century with net migration levels fairly close to what they are now. I think that is a reasonably just approach on a global scale, and if we aren’t capable of living sustainably on this continent with that many people, we aren’t really trying. (Of course, it’s true that we aren’t really trying at the moment, but that’s another story)

  2. Well Andrew, if there is such a huge public disagreement with your beliefs what do you think that means? After all we vote for people based on their policies and their ability to implement.

  3. What happens if the Democrats have no Senators left after the next election?

    Mind you they’ll probably get voted back in in SA regardless.

  4. Andrew

    So your justification for supporting 110,000 net migration into Australia is so that is supports your arguments to bring 13,000 in the humanitarian program? That’s a pretty tenuous argument.

    Why not give more foreign aid. For the amount that it cost Australia to take in one asylum-seeker or refugees, we could improve the lives of hundreds or thousands of impoverished people in the third world.

    And bear in mind that most people who come into Australia under the skilled migration program are not impoverished, not poor and not persecuted.

  5. They’re some very good points Tom.

    I’d be willing to support a policy that’d help people to stay in their own countries instead of having to become refugees.

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