Sunday, September 17, 2006

Values confusions

This strange debate on Australian values is curious. James Jupp has said most of what needs to be said. Reflecting on this issue in context of writing a lecture on multiculturalism. We should remember that there has been along succession of statements on multicultural policy, all of whom have stressed that diversity exists within a framework of unifying values: democracy, the rule of law, English as the dominant language etc. The Howard government has talked about multiculturalism less and has added the prefix 'Australian' but its policy statements, which have been endorsed by Howard build on their Labor predecessors. the National Multicultural Advisory Council set up by the government (which has no members with any union background) was entrusted with the task of drafting a policy that stressed the objective of national unity, yet references to these policy documents seem to be totally absent from the current 'debate'. The government quietly let the Council for a Multicultural Australia lapse. When Howard talks about 'zealous multiculturalism' is he repudiating his endorsement of existing policy? If so it rivals Peter Beattie's performance on Queensland hospitals! The title of the discussion paper on the test is 'Australian citizenship; Much more than a ceremony' , isn't a marriage a ceremony, a funeral, Anzac Day? It gets more confused with an editorial The Australian to whom multiculturalism was something in the 1980s and 1990s (what about the Galbally report of 1978?) and with the would-be court philosopher of Australian PMs Paul Kelly who doesn't mention existing policy once. Adam Kotso (via Brad de Long) identifies a feature of conservative rhetoric as:
The "blank slate" -- the topic at hand is to be treated as though no one in the history of humanity had ever discussed it before this discrete occasion.
How much of this vendetta against existing citizenship rules is driven by annoyance at the fact that the more non-Anglo migrants are the more likely they are to take up citizenship? In 1996 it was 58% for British migrants and 90% for Vietnamese. Kelly tells us that:
As the debate about security and identity intensifies, successful nations will demand a unifying idea that transcends the "ahistorical notion of human rights" or a cultural pluralism based on individualism. This leads directly to Howard's emphasis on unifying Australian values.
When I see the term 'ahistorical' along with 'positive', 'organic' 'dynamic' etc. etc. I yearn even for the days of Hayek whose Road to Serfdom does a good job of skewering such meaningless adjectives. It is precisely the concepts of human rights and liberal democracy that provide the basis for a civic nationalism worth defending, why else would we be concerned about the rise of fundamentalism if not for this. Perhaps opposition to torture is one of the ahsitorical individualist principles Kelly rejects? What’s the real agenda? I see at least two: 1) population trends suggest that Australia’s ethnic composition will change drastically over the next century. This is an electoral challenge for the conservatives as for the US Republicans keeping people off the electoral rolls is one solution; 2) Kelly is a high immigration man, a citizenship panic could divert people from considering the economic consequences of skilled labour migration. Kelly almost admits the later:
Let’s remember that citizenship policy is a means to an end. The end is to allow Australia to keep running a successful high intake non-discriminatory immigration policy in coming decades. This is what the debate is about. It means maximising community support for immigration.
My translation: let them in but don't let them vote!


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