By Dr George Venturini
Australia has no official language, but its version of English has always been entrenched as the de facto national language. Australian English is a major variety of the language with a distinctive accent and lexicon, and differs slightly from other varieties of English in grammar and spelling. General Australian serves as the standard dialect.
Incidentally, having destroyed some two million Indigenous People since 1788, Australians have been destroying 600 out of 750 distinct native groups and with them associated languages and dialects. Of the remaining 150 all but 20 are endangered. This qualitatively represents the worst genocide in human history. (‘Australian Aboriginal Genocide’ – Google, as at 2015; G. Polya, ‘Ongoing Aboriginal genocide and Aboriginal ethnocide by politically correct racist apartheid Australia’, Countercurrents, 16 February 2014).
According to the 2016 census, English is the only language spoken in the home for close to 72.7 per cent of the non-Indigenous population. There was a considerable drop if compared to 76.8 per cent in 2011. Otherwise, the next most common languages spoken at home are: Mandarin – by 2.5 per cent, Arabic – by 1.4 per cent, Cantonese – by 1.2 per cent, Vietnamese by 1.2 per cent, and Italian – by 1.2 per cent. English is still the main language for three quarters of Australians, but there are 301 other different languages spoken in homes across the country. A considerable proportion of first- and second-generation migrants is bilingual.
At the time of the 2006 census, 52,000 Indigenous People, representing 12 per cent of the Indigenous population, reported that they spoke an Indigenous language at home.
When one comes to literacy and numeracy, it is difficult to speak about a truly open, informed, participatory society, in the presence of figures provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics which show that 44 per cent of Australian adults do not have the literacy, numeracy and dexterity for problem solving in technology-rich environment, and even less skills they need to cope with the demand of everyday life and work.
At Census 2011, approximately 7.3 million (44 per cent) non-Indigenous persons in Australia aged 15 to 74 years had literacy skills at Levels 1 or 2, a further 6.4 million (39 per cent) at Level 3, and 2.7 million (17 per cent) at Level 4/5. For the numeracy scale, approximately 8.9 million (55 per cent) Australians were assessed at Level 1 or 2, 5.3 million (32 per cent) at Level 3 and 2.1 million (13 per cent) at Level 4/5. The statistics are much worse for Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders. Census data show just how badly Australia fares at ‘closing inequality gaps’. (‘Census data shows just how bad we’ve been at closing inequality gaps, N. Biddle and F. Markham, 25 October 2017, theconversation.com).
Multiculturalism, as presented in Australia, can only be viewed as a farce – a display of flags, foods and folklore – and all under the grand umbrella of ‘fair go’. To be precise, it is a comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterisation and ludicrously improbable situations.
It is something near a vaudeville, a travesty, a buffoonery, or a pasquinade, from the name Pasquino, used by the Romans of fifteenth century to describe a mutilated Hellenistic statue dating back to the third century b.c.e. which was traditionally used as the place to which attach anonymous criticisms of public persons.
It befits present day Australia.
On 20 March 2017 then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull released the Australian Government’s new multicultural statement Multicultural Australia: United, Strong, Successful. The statement ‘reaffirms the Government’s commitment to a culturally diverse and harmonious society’.
Australia’s previous multicultural policy, The People of Australia – Australia’s Multicultural Policy, was launched in 2011 by the Gillard Government. It reaffirmed the importance of Australians’ shared values and cultural traditions and recognised that Australia’s multicultural character gives the country a comprehensive edge in an increased globalised world.
The new statement outlines the strategic direction and priorities for multicultural policy in Australia. It sets out the Australian Government’s vision for embracing diversity while emphasising the country’s “unique national identity and the importance of being an integrated and united people.”
The statement acknowledges that “the mix of different cultures makes Australia more interesting and stronger.” Sharing a country’s cultural heritage “is part of celebrating what it means to be Australian, and helps everyone feel included.” The statement upholds the centrality of Australia’s “democratic institutions and the rule of law, it highlights the importance of citizenship in [the country’s] national identity, and it makes clear the responsibility … all have to respect [their] fellow Australians.”
This is in a nutshell the presentation by the Australian Government.
The statement opens with a foreword by the Prime Minister:
“Australia is the most successful multicultural society in the world.
We are as old as our First Australians, the oldest continuing human culture on earth, who have cared for this country for more than 50,000 years.
And we are as young as the baby in the arms of her migrant mother who could have come from any nation, any faith, any race in the world.
Australia is an immigration nation. Almost half of our current population was either born overseas or has at least one parent born overseas.
And we come from every culture, every race, every faith, every nation.
We are defined not by race, religion or culture, but by shared values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and equality of opportunity – a “fair go”.
The glue that holds us together is mutual respect – a deep recognition that each of us is entitled to the same respect, the same dignity, the same opportunities.
And national security – a resolute determination to defend our nation, our people and our values – is the foundation on which our freedoms have been built and maintained.
At a time of growing global tensions and rising uncertainty, Australia remains a steadfast example of a harmonious, egalitarian and enterprising nation, embracing its diversity.
Multicultural Australia: United, Strong, Successful renews and reaffirms the Government’s commitment to a multicultural Australia, in which racism and discrimination have no place.”
Some comments seem appropriate.
That very first sentence is incorrect. Once the definition of multiculturalism is reached, and by whatever conventional measure, Australia is not “the most successful multicultural society in the world.”
Canada understands by multiculturalism the sense of an equal celebration of racial, religious and cultural backgrounds.
The multiculturalism policy was officially adopted by Pierre Trudeau’s government during the 1970s and further developed in the 1980s. The Canadian federal government has been described as the instigator of multiculturalism as an ideology because of its public emphasis on the social importance of immigration. The 1960s Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism is often referred to as the origin of modern political awareness of multiculturalism.
Canadians have used the term “multiculturalism” both descriptively (as a sociological fact) and prescriptively (as a political ideology). In the first sense “multiculturalism” is a description of the many different religious traditions and cultural influences which in their unity and coexistence in Canada make up Canadian culture. The nation consists of people from a multitude of racial, religious and cultural backgrounds and is open to cultural pluralism. By the early twenty-first century, people from outside British and French heritage composed the majority of the population, with an increasing percentage of individuals who identify themselves as “visible minorities”.
Multiculturalism is reflected in the law through the Canadian Multiculturalism Act of 1988 and section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is administered by the Department of Canadian Heritage.
Incidentally, no similar Act or Charter appears on Australian statute books. By the shysterish lucubrations of some prime ministers and their ‘first law officers’ Australia remains the sole Anglospheric country immune from such contagion.
Putting it at the very favourable to the Prime Ministerial statement, Australia was estimated in a serious study of 2010, admittedly seven years ago, to be the ‘second most multicultural country.’ (A.B.C., AM – ‘Australia nearly most multicultural nation in world,’ by Dr. R. Miranti, Canberra University, abc.net.au. 17 November 2010).
The second sentence of the Prime Ministerial foreword: “We are as old as our First Australians, the oldest continuing human culture on earth, who have cared for this country for more than 50,000 years.” glosses over the past and present condition of the First Australians, certainly a gratuitous identification of the peoples the British invaders of 1778 very early, abused and continued to do so until that questionable activity was taken up by derivative Australians. This is not the place to retrace the history of that abuse, superbly documented by Professor Henry Reynolds, the eminent Australian historian whose primary work has focused on the frontier conflict between the invaders and the subsequent Australians, on one side, and the Indigenous Australians, on the other.
That second Prime Ministerial sentence is no more than a rhetorical and self-glorifying camouflage of the continuous indifference to the condition of the Indigenous Peoples.
Most of the substantial recommendations contained in the ‘Indigenous Deaths in Custody, 1989 to 1996’, a Report prepared by the Office of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, and published in 1997, remain un-implemented to date. Four words sum up the most recent tragedy: the Don Dale children.
The multicultural statement abounds with words such as ‘establishment of British institutions’, ‘democratic institutions’, ‘rule of law’, ‘citizenship’, and’ national identity’ (statement, p. 4). Those words/concepts reappear with some variations further on: ‘nations’, ‘British and Irish settlement’, ‘establishment of our parliamentary democracy’, ‘shared values, rights and responsibilities’ (statement, p. 7), ‘rule of law and allegiance to Australia’, ‘parliamentary democracy’, ‘liberal-democratic tradition’, ‘fundamental rights of very individual’, ‘democratic process’(statement, p. 9).
It is extraordinarily presumptuous, nay arrogant of Australian governments and their prime or ordinary ministers to assume that all migrants do not know the difference between ‘parliamentary democracy’ Canberra style and ‘representative democracy’.
The latter means very simply one head, one vote and one weight, regardless of the personal qualifications of the elector, whether s/he is barely able to write her/his name and read her/his ballot or s/he is an astrophysics scientist. And it is the duty of the governments to provide the elevation of those less fortunate, and to set up conditions whereby who counts is not the occasional Ph.D. (P in Head Dressing – or similar profanity as conferred by the ‘new schools’ which “spark innovation, creativity and vitality”) – as the statement proclaims at p.13. The last words seem to have come from the pen of Mr. Turnbull. Waffle one would say, while others could have a choice of: rattle, chatter, babble, ramble, jabber, gibber.
So here is a suggestion: why not send the competent ministers to find out how such countries as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland manage their elections? Better still, ample information could be obtained from the relative embassies in Canberra. None of those countries enjoys the high privilege of British birth, but they seem to be getting along fairly well, and no one would question their democratic practice. They are eight of the some forty countries governed with proportional representation.
Their citizens would be horrified at the result of the most recent Australian elections, where the anti-Labor Coalition of Liberal, Liberal National and Nationals received 5,661,209 votes, Labor gained 4,702,314 and the Greens: 1,153,736.
After the chien-en-lit which is compulsory preference distribution, the Coalition obtained 76 seats, Labor 69, while the Greens could occupy only one seat – having obtained roughly one/fifth of the Coalition and one/fourth of Labor votes. Four other seats made up to the 150 Representatives. That could be ‘parliamentary democracy Southern-Westminster-Style’; representative democracy it is not.
Disregarding for some un-reason both the experience of Dublin and Reykjavík, why not look at Helsinki? There they had the most recent election of 2015. Here are the results of representative democracy – not Westminster blessing, but one head, one vote and one weight, distributed by party, percentage of votes and number of seats.
Centre Party, 21.10 per cent, 49 seats; Finns Party 17.65 per cent, 38 seats; National Coalition Party, 18.20 per cent, 37 seats; Social Democratic Party, 16.51 per cent, 34 seats; Green League, 8.53 per cent, 15 seats; Left Alliance, 7.13 per cent, 12 seats; Swedish People’s Party of Finland, 4.88 per cent, 9 seats; Christian Democrats, 3.54 per cent, 5 seats; and Åland Coalition, 0.37 per cent, 1 seat. (from a letter by Outsider, Multicultural Australia: Malcolm Turnbull’s camouflage, theaimn.com, 30 March 2017).
One final comment about ‘loose language’: on ‘naturalisation’ a new Australian becomes a ‘subject’. ‘Citizens’ belong to a republic – and vice versa. Particularly in Trumpian times one should not look to the United States of America for identification and comparisons. But one could try: Iceland (established, @ 800 b.c.e., a republic since 1944), Finland (a republic since 1917), the Czech Republic (a republic since 1993), why – even Ireland (established between 1919 and 1949).
There is more:
“Citizenship is a privilege and, as part of the Australian Citizenship Ceremony, new citizens pledge and affirm ‘loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey.’ ”
‘Shared values’ reappear thrice, along with ‘democratic institutions’ and a ‘shared vision for the future’ on p.11.
In the statement, “the Government continues promoting the principle of mutual respect and denouncing racial hatred and discrimination as incompatible with Australian society.” (For good measure, the point is made again at p. 15 of the statement).
“The Government places the highest priority on the safety and security of all Australians. Recent terrorist attacks around the world have justifiably caused concern in the Australian community.
The Government respond to these threats by continuing to invest in counter-terrorism, strong borders and strong national security. This helps to ensure that Australia remains an open, inclusive, free and safe society.” (p. 11). [Emphasis added]
Assumptions made in the previous Prime Ministerial paragraph, and repeated by the ministers, should be carefully examined – and challenged.
There is no question that, according to English law, the first soldier to land on Australia in 1788 was carrying ‘British law’ and ‘establishing British institutions’ in his rucksack.
The two ministers might be forgiven for a wobbly knowledge of the law, in which they both graduated, and for branching together ‘British and Irish settlement’. The Irish arrived as convicts – some of them for minor offences and quite a few of them for seditious activities – no better than scum in the view of the ‘better’ British society.
This could be forgiven if coming from mediocre students of history, but would certainly not have been tolerated from Malcolm Bligh Turnbull, of Sydney Grammar School, B.A., B. of Laws from the University of Sydney, Rhodes Scholar at, and Bachelor of Civil Law from, Brasenose College, Oxford, rendered famous by his defence at the Spycatcher trial, author and once a well-known republican reformer. “Tout passe, tout lasse, tout casse et tout se remplace.”
If anything Ireland should be thanked for by old residents as well as newcomers it should be for its republican traditions, grown stronger in time despite and against British domination and Catholic oppression.
One is entitled to assume that such a scholar as Mr. Turnbull would have a more precise notion of that variable-with-time statement of ‘allegiance to Australia’ that every person who wishes to become a subject of the law in Australia is asked to swear/affirm.
Of course, Mr. Turnbull knows better; and he was the Prime Minister.
Proceeding in order: the Governor-Generalate of Australia is headed by a person nominate by the Prime Minister, appointed by Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. Oops! And if the swearer/affirmer happens to be atheist, or perhaps not Anglican – which is the faith Queen Elizabeth is called to defend? Problem? What problem?
Second step in the investiture: the appointed Governor-General swear – maybe even affirms? – allegiance to the Queen. And then, and only then, s/he swears/affirms allegiance to the people of Australia and its constitution.
Now, a would-be-subject would have more of a little problem with the omissions and commissions of that act of the British Imperial Parliament. Much about this has been said before by many, and very learned in the field. Let us be satisfied for the moment that the Constitution of Australia was inspired by the principle laid down by Lord Palmerston (1784-1865): “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.” The descriptor for a colony, residual though it may be, fits perfectly the present status of Australia as far as the law is concerned – not to mention ‘who really owns the joint’.
Moving on to the notion of ‘parliamentary democracy’, that is very far from ‘representative democracy’.
Some definitions would help. It is accepted that by parliamentary democracy one means that the resulting political system is based on the principle that Parliament is supreme, or sovereign.
In such a system the people choose representatives at regular elections. These representatives are responsible for a number of functions: 1) the formation of the government. This is achieved by majority vote in the lower house, in Australia’s case, the House of Representatives; 2) the passage of legislation – the laws of the nation – by majority vote of the Parliament. In Australia’s bicameral Parliament, this requires the support of both the House of Representatives and the Senate; 3) the scrutiny and monitoring of the executive government, the public service and other authorities and institutions set up by Parliament. Most importantly, this scrutiny extends to monitoring the expenditure of taxpayers’ money.
Australia’s status as a parliamentary democracy does not preclude the use of other terms which also define the political system.
Continued Saturday – Comedy without art (part 4)
Previous instalment – Comedy without art (part 2)
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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