There is evidence that both sides of politics in Australia once sought the chimerical ethnic vote. The waiting period for residents to apply for citizenship was reduced from 5 years (out of 8) to 3 years by one government; and then to 2 years by the other.
This happened some time after my expert team had carried out the first review of the Australian Citizenship Act of 1948 (in the early 1980s). Our recommendations were accepted. Reflecting our basal position that citizenship involved a commitment to the nation, I had recommended that only a citizen can govern, administer, or fight for Australia.
My suspicion (in my retirement) was that the motivation for seeking the ethnic vote had been ethnic empowerment. Well-settled Australians of European stock had convinced the federal government to set up a parallel settlement –assistance program, at considerable cost, in the 1970s. Their claim had been that immigrants had to be taken by taxpayer-funded ethnic community employed social workers to needed services, both public and private, instead of being shown where to go. How had earlier arrivals, from 1948, managed?
The immigrants, then, were primarily European and Levantine; Indo-Chinese refugees and the preferred East Asian immigrants had not arrived. Whether the latter 2 communities could self-manage, on arrival, needed settlement services, is highly questionable.
Thus, long-established European communities received grants, in spite of a scarcity of new intakes. Late in the 1980s, second-generation Aussies argued for the continuation of these grants to assist ageing immigrant populations, which had already integrated into the nation.
Then, a superstructure of ethnic community organisations evolved nationally, through federal government facilitation and funding. Federal public servants (Anglo-Celt, with one exception – me) provided necessary briefings for their conferences. State government too set up advisory bodies. The unspoken emphasis was on ethnicity retention. The thrust of these federal and state bodies, then, was opposed to ‘mainstreaming,’
Mainstreaming involves the delivery to all Australians, equably, of all necessary services, by both public and private agencies, irrespective of country of origin or ethnicity of clients. Why was that not acceptable to ethnic community leaders?
Quaintly, federal multiculturalism policy encouraged ethnic identification, through the retention by ethnic communities in Australia of those aspects of their imported cultures which were not inconsistent with Australia’s cultural values – just as we were merging into one integrated people. Was ethnic empowerment enhanced by this emphasis?
Reality was recovered when Prime Minister Howard and NSW State Premier Carr jointly and sensibly replaced multiculturalism policy with a policy of celebrating a shared Australian citizenship. The residence requirement for citizenship was also raised to 4 years.
Then the value of citizenship was diminished by the availability of dual citizenship – except for those who seek to be members of Parliament. Who would want to be governed by politicians owing part-allegiance to a foreign government?
Does a degree of ethnic empowerment continue through ministers of multiculturalism, advised by appointed ‘ethnic’ advisers? Would this be compatible with a substantially-integrated Australia, which is also colour blind?