Tasmanian Times

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The PM’s legless bird

Nick Evers

I think there are two wings to this new, legless bird that the Prime Minister or some over-paid minder has hatched. First, and consistent with the Prime Minister’s record, it is a gesture of crude populism. “Everyone who wants to come here must be a true blue, fair dinkum, bonzer, ‘ave a beer, suntanned Aussie from day one.” There may well be people in Howard-land who endorse this sentiment but they wouldn’t have thought about it if Howard hadn’t reminded them. It is a matter of creating an issue to win a vote — “Jeez, Little Johnny really looks after us battlers, don’t he?” — rather than achieve some substantive policy objective that will enhance the lives of those who live here and those who will come here in future.

MORE than half a century ago, before and especially after the Second World War, many thousands of Europeans and others were involved in a migration flow to Australia that transformed our country very much for the better.

The migrants came from all parts of Europe — the Balkans, central Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Baltic — as well as from other parts of the world. I was taught German by Paul Mink who, with his wife and sister, escaped Germany at the eleventh hour lest they were consigned to Hitler’s gas chambers because they were of Jewish extraction.

Then there was Freddy Dayan who came with his wife from Cairo, initially to Melbourne where he worked as a labourer and then to the sad fate of being required to teach me French at Hobart High School. (I would have preferred the French way of learning a language: “On apprend une langue sur l’oreiller” which translated means that you learn a language on the pillow!) There was also the Kuplis family, a couple of doors from where we lived initially in Hobart after migrating from the north-west coast, who were among the most decent, diligent, contributing citizens one could wish to meet.

Overwhelmingly, these people and many thousands in subsequent waves of migration, made largely seamless transitions to life in a “new”, raw nation notwithstanding initial barriers of language, customs and various idiosyncrasies that are unique to the Australian ethos. I know this because, like most young Australians of that period, I went to school and university with them, played sport with them, went to parties with them, did national service with them and applauded their victories in everything from under-ten hurdle races to Rhodes Scholarships. To this day I have fond memories of all sorts of contacts with a wide range of emigrant Australians of that period. These people and their descendents were and are no less Australian than I am and my lineage reaches back to the early years of the colony. Indeed, the non-Anglo-Saxon waves of migrants have enriched our nation in all sorts of positive and enduring ways. The way we live and eat and play and conduct ourselves and better understand the world around us owes a great deal to the contribution of successive waves of migration to our shores.

For all that, however, I am now informed that all these migrants over all those years had one critical deficiency — that is that not one of them ever swore allegiance to a code of Australian values. Isn’t it awful? It is akin to having a bastard in the extended family. (Who hasn’t, somewhere?!)

Over-paid minder

As I understand it, Prime Minister John Howard is canvassing the notion that this appalling gap can be addressed by ensuring that future migrants will swear allegiance —– or acknowledge or formally affirm or kiss or offer blood to — a code of Australian values. I think this is a load of old poppycock. It is an insult to those millions of Australians, and their descendents, who came here as migrants. It infers that, in some way, they are the lesser as citizens because they didn’t swear to respect our values. The fact is that they have enhanced our values. They are an integral part of our values.

I think there are two wings to this new, legless bird that the Prime Minister or some over-paid minder has hatched. First, and consistent with the Prime Minister’s record, it is a gesture of crude populism. “Everyone who wants to come here must be a true blue, fair dinkum, bonzer, ‘ave a beer, suntanned Aussie from day one.” There may well be people in Howard-land who endorse this sentiment but they wouldn’t have thought about it if Howard hadn’t reminded them. It is a matter of creating an issue to win a vote — “Jeez, Little Johnny really looks after us battlers, don’t he?” — rather than achieve some substantive policy objective that will enhance the lives of those who live here and those who will come here in future.

Secondly, you can be assured that in some oblique way the Prime Minister will link the “values” issue to that of national security and, specifically, to the threat of terrorism. Terrorism is indeed a real, present and doubtless increasing threat to many countries, including Australia. However, it will not effectively be addressed by such vacuous proposals as a code of national values, however it is framed. Its principal contribution would be as grist to the mill of cartoonists and columnists. Our security will be best addressed by consummate professionals using all the contemporary intelligence and related tools available to maximise the safety of all our citizens.

Then, of course, there is the awesome challenge of settling on what our values actually are. In this context I was interested to read a piece in The Australian of 23-24 September, 2006 by Kenneth Wiltshire, a respected academic, who was writing about the teaching of English, in the course of which he made the following observation: “… but national governments play a key role in setting national standards in a range of measures, including core curriculum, if only to achieve adherence to national values and goals.” I think Professor Wiltshire is also off the track unless, like me, he believes that any national values in Australia are transitory assertions that float past us from time to time reflecting the bright idea or off-the-cuff comment of a politician posing as a philosopher.

I expect that if we ferreted about for a while in our arts, our pioneering, our sporting achievements, our military record and other areas we would come up with some elements of a catalogue of values but I wonder how it would accommodate the other side of the ledger — like our appalling treatment of aboriginal Australians over two centuries; the fact that nearly 40% of Tasmanian households are receiving some form of welfare payment and that nearly 90,000 Tasmanians worry about how to feed their families each day; the rival gangs which went for each other with enthusiastic venality in a Sydney beachside suburb earlier this year; the gross incompetence of our bureaucrats and ministers in sagas like the Cornelia Rau and AWB scandals; and much, much more.

I believe that we Australians — all of us, whoever and wherever we are and whenever we arrived — have enormous love and respect for our country, for all sorts of reasons. That is a given and we should leave it at that. If John Howard wants to take the matter further I recommend that he set up an inter-departmental committee on the matter. That should bury it for a decade or so.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. alan taylor

    October 3, 2006 at 1:04 am

    and why, pray tell, have there been several government pogroms in the last ten years to prune the number of people on welfare if the number of unemployed is falling dramatically?

    simple ~ because the number of individuals receiving welfare has stayed relatively static. it looks a tad embarrassing for a government when you claim that the number of people unemployed has halved but roughly the same number of people as before are drawing benefits..

    it also seems a mite on the nose when the number of people listed as unemployed by the government has fallen dramatically but the number of people receiving assistance from NGO welfare organisations continues to rise every year.

    there is, of course, a perfectly logical explanation for this. 50% of all those sods receiving welfare of one sort or another are really also in full time work, meaning that there are over a million people committing welfare fraud.

    ah.. now the conservatives can relax ~ we have a perfectly good explanation that not only fits the statistics, it verifies that half the underclass are thieving, cheating ,scheming liars. as opposed to the government which is honest, fair minded, noble, decent, caring…

    hands up all those who agree?

    alan taylor

  2. Justa Bloke

    October 2, 2006 at 5:18 pm

    John, if unemployment has halved under Howard, could you please explain why there are just as many people unemployed now as there were ten years ago?

    Your “experience in the community” does not stand up to the facts.

    What’s more, our balance of trade is much worse, and since the Free Trade Agreement with America its deterioration has accelerated. This does not bode well for the short-term future.

  3. John Herbert

    September 30, 2006 at 6:54 pm

    Somke and mirrors is what you have presented my friend. You sound like the type of person who may want ot prove that black is white, but I’ll take it at face value and my experience in the community, I’m telling ya, unemployment has halved under the Liberal Federal government. The Keating toilet republic has been avoided and I for one I’m glad about that.

  4. alan taylor

    September 30, 2006 at 1:12 am

    john john john john john… no no no!

    the reason the unemployment statistics have gone down is that, 1., structural unemployment has bottomed out; 2., there has, indeed, been a very slight statistical upswing in employment; 3., many longterm underemployed no longer bother to register; 4., and the biggest factor in the statistics (not the actual reflection of unemployed) is that the government has progressively reduced the threshold determining employment.

    now, all you have to do to be deemed employed is work for an hour a week and bingo, you’re not unemployed! you qualify as being fully employed.

    the huge swing from permanent to casual employment has meant a transformational shift from full employment to underemployment for a big minority of australians. they are no longer fully employed, are being paid less per week in total, but are still considered to be employed. they no longer appear amongst the numbers of unemployed. in real terms, the arithmetic number of full time unemployed hasn’t dropped dramatically. a lot of it is smoke and mirrors.

    keep up, herbie! keep up!

    alan taylor

  5. John Herbert

    September 28, 2006 at 12:26 am

    Probably not Jane. These are the guys that are so shit scared they wanted out at any cost, so squealed to get away form murderous aquaintances. I doubt these are the hard core guys, just the unweary ‘friends’ of those who turned out to be comfortable with wholesale killings of anyone western. You know anyone owning a toilet with a sewerage system or even a microwave or any other such sinfull impedimentia. Like the Amish with bombs on ice I imagine.

  6. Jane Rankin-Reid

    September 27, 2006 at 10:03 pm

    Little of the current debate on “australian-ness” is tallying with the Fed’s recent decision to collaborate with international law enforcement agencies in resettling foreign terror suspects who’ve rolled over to authorities…
    see http://theaustralian.news.com.au/printpage/0,5942,20476894,00.html

    Will these former suspects turned witnesses in the war against terror also be required to pledge allegance or whatever else the new phrases for Australian-ness are?

  7. John Herbert

    September 27, 2006 at 5:09 pm

    Since when have little Aussie battlers been interested in substantive policy objectives Nick? Howard has halved unemployement. I think you’ll find that in most people books that is helping the greater population now and into the future.

    All this values pap is about trying to weed out the schmucks who may want to blow up some body pack in our local mall and you know it. But hey if spin is your biz then spin it baby.

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