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Multicultural Australia: but still we debate

By ‘Outsider’

Continued from Part 1. Multicultural Australia: Malcolm Turnbull’s camouflage

In the Prime Minister’s self-comforting view, Australians “are defined not by race, religion or culture, but by shared values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and equality of opportunity – “fair go” – the prosaic ‘fair go’.

The formulae recur even more frequently in the Joint Message from the Minister for Social Services and the Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs.

The opening words of that message are worth reproducing verbatim:

“All Australians can be proud of our strong and successful multicultural society. The story of Australia began in the distant past with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, grew with the establishment of British institutions, and continues with people from lands far and wide.

The freedom and security we enjoy is no accident. Successive Governments have set out a vision for our society that embraces diversity while emphasising our unique national identity and the importance of being an integrated and united people. [Integrated? How far is that from assimilated?]

In an age where many people have grown anxious about the increase of terrorism and extremism, there is no better time to reaffirm our steadfast commitment to democracy, opportunity, and our shared values.” [Emphasis added]

The rest of the 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).

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 be 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’ every person who wishes to become a subject of the law in Australia is asked to swear/affirm.

Of course, Mr. Turnbull knows better; but he is now 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’.

And why would-be-subjects and not ‘citizen’? Well, 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 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).

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.

At its heart, Australia is a system of representative government. More specifically, Australian parliamentary democracy is a variation of the Westminster system, the system which is characterised by responsible government.

The question is: responsible to whom? Both Her Majesty’s Australian Government and Her Majesty Loyal Opposition in Australia are responsible to the Queen – not to the people of Australia.

Now, the legislation enacted by the Parliament, the relative regulations, and also the international agreements and/or conventions freely acceded to and ratified by Australia must be regarded as the body of laws which is called, briefly, ‘the rule of law’. There is quite frequent reference to that in the statement. See, for instance, pp. 4 and 9 thereof.

It seems that there should be a kind of reciprocity between the government and the people: the government respects the law that Parliament has enacted or received as much and as long as the subjects do the same. It could be a condition for the protection of the people by and from the government.

The government commands and enforces respect for the ‘rule of law’ and at the same time protects the people within ‘strong borders’ and guarantees ‘strong national security.’ It is the statement proclaiming that much on p. 11, where the statement adds: “This helps to ensure that Australia remains an open, inclusive, free and safe society.” [Emphasis added]

The Australian Government of the time largely contributed to the wording of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted in 1948), where Article 14 (1) reads: ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.’ (Thank you Dr. Herbert Vere Evatt). Nowadays that means absolutely nothing in Canberra.

Successive Australian governments have acceded to, ratified and made the law of the land what is largely referred to as the International Bill of Human Rights, which is the name given to United Nations General Assembly Resolution 217 A (III) and two international treaties established by the Organisation. The Bill consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) with its two Optional Protocols and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966). The two covenants entered into force in 1976, after a sufficient number of countries had ratified them. Australia was one such country.

Australian governments have entered into other treaties and conventions. To the extent that those instruments relate to the condition of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia, every single one of those treaties has been violated by the Australian governments of the last twenty five years, including the present.

As Christos Tsiolkas wrote on 25 March 2017 in an extract from his foreword to They cannot take the sky – Stories of detention (Sydney 2017), apropos the “destructive national debate about asylum seekers”, “In all the screaming across the parliament floor or on social media, we forget that the asylum seeker and the refugee is a real person, with a real body and a real consciousness, that they are as human as we are.”

And he went on:

“For nearly two decades now, Australian politics has been corrupted by a toxic and destructive national debate about asylum seekers and refugees. Unfortunately, fought out as much across media – traditional and digital – as it has in our parliament, the issue of asylum has become inexorably entwined with our security and existential fears arising from the threats of international terrorism.

Our leaders, across the political spectrum, have failed in the democratic imperative to ensure a cogent and humane approach to the issue. In fanning the hysteria of partisanship they have betrayed our trust. That great leveller, history, will ultimately judge us on what kind of country we created for ourselves at the beginning of the 21st century. This isn’t the place for political analysis.”

Continued Tomorrow … Multicultural Australia: yet … still fearful of ‘others’


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  1. wam

    the debate is a symptom of an amoral toxic religious maniac using the media for god and his church. The labor antiabbottic was not fully applied and the disease has evolved into an intelligence resistant strain. The plibshort drug company seems fixed on applying their traditional cold compress and waiting till the fever abates. That was ineffective last year, although a medicare jab evoke a positive response but again the full treatment was not carried our so QED the disease flourished and spread hansonly.

  2. helvityni

    I’m mighty confused about values, about shared values, Australian, British, multicultural values…? What are the Australian values I’m urged to share? Are they better, more desirable than those of my old country… 🙂

    Anyhow I can safely say that I wholeheartedly agree with the words of Christos Tsiolkas above…

  3. Alan Baird

    I do love it when Turnbull waxes lyrical about “Australian values”. Really prompts an urge to augment his name with a suffix so it is rendered as “Turnbullinto-Gold”. Satisfyingly hyphenated with a nod to the eastern suburbs ‘cos I live in his electorate. Perhaps a bit subtle for 18c but. Fact is, the entire fight that’s occupying the minds of those in government (and to a microscopically smaller extent, the Opposition) at the moment is MONEY. That’s what encapsulates all true-blue Oz “values”. Money, and the retention of it for the anointed ones, backed up by the solid track record of “trickle-down-&-evaporate economics”.

  4. Carol Taylor

    Helvityni, similar thoughts to myself. Firstly, there is the odour of white supremacy, of colonialism, that only a white primarily British society has appropriate “values”. Ignored are aspects of other cultures which have values clearly superior to our own such as respect and indeed veneration towards the elderly. Otherwise the only Australian values I can note is mateship and a fair go for all – very little is evident in those who espouse “Australian values”.

  5. Alan Baird

    It just occurred! Malcolm has more Australian Values than just about anybody. A perfect illustration of the point about money…

  6. Ill fares the land

    I would have thought that there is great confusion about where the arguments about asylum seekers stop and about immigration starts. There’s no question that our politicians have managed to ensnare themselves in a race to the policy bottom over asylum seekers – all sparked by Howard because it was he who saw an opportunity to turn the issue into one that provoked fear and, when all is said and done, nothing defines a “conservative” more than fear. Fear of people with different cultural values; fear of people with different coloured skin; fear that the indigenous get way more stuff than we do; fear that the same applies to the unemployed, single mothers and the disabled; fear that I can’t say whatever the hell I like about anyone, however crude or insulting it might be (is this because of the Twitterisation of our culture, where everyone can spill their views, however blind, biased or stupid and perversely, the more easily we can share our views with the world, the more we think the world wants to hear our views).

    But while we absolutely should treat refugees more humanely, I suspect that for many people, while the discussion point might well be refugees, the de facto argument is in fact about immigration and whether we should, or should not allow more migrants into this country. That leads to a view that Australia’s borders are just a bit too open right now and that in turn metamorphoses into a fear of all immigration; of Muslim immigration specifically and a general hardening of hearts towards refugees. But that alone doesn’t mean that we should “open our borders”. Most countries don’t and many of those countries have only one-way immigration – outwards and yet many of those countries accuse Australia of being racist.

    It is clear our government (and it must be said the previous Labor gov’t) thinks that because immigration was good for this country in the past (and especially in the post-WW2 decades), more and more immigration must surely be an even better thing – especially when they bring cash and, like it or not, our culture can be what we think, but parts of our “culture” go way deeper than that and it can easily be and has repeatedly been demonstrated that we are more comfortable surrounded by things and people that are “familiar” – that is how we tend to be wired. That might not excuse blatant racism, but there is a natural degree of fear of unfamiliarity. When we don’t see the “us” in our country, we tend to feel that the country we know is under threat and that provokes anxiety. That is our old “lizard brain” doing what it evolved to do.

    Sixty years ago, immigration lifted our standard of living for all – people who came here got jobs and contributed to the economy (they bought cars and houses, they added to our “culture” in so many ways that we now take for granted etc) – the “pie” got bigger for most. However, I suspect we are presently “saturated” and migrants are now competing for increasingly scarce resources and that promotes fear that even a small number of refugees being allowed into Australia adds toxins to our social and economic systems. Personally, while I am appalled by our treatment of refugees, I am equally appalled by the notion that immigration must have some vast intrinsic value – surely there is an appropriate level of immigration – which incorporates refugees.

  7. Mark Needham

    Picture it.
    Our family, on an undiscovered island.

    Whom, would we like to be the first to knock on our “beach”, MUSCLE IN, and say “We are here”
    Mark Needham

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