Citizenship vs. Ethnic identity

Are these 2 concepts contradictory? Not necessarily. Were a national government to emphasise:

  • pride in a shared citizenship
  • citizens integrating culturally, as in a goulash, curry, or stir-fried edibles of a wide variety (not as in an English salad)
  • equal opportunity available under the law, in employment, in services, etc. (unlike the cheap labour provided to parts of Europe by former colonial subjects)
  • the avoidance of ethnic enclaves, especially ones with a deficiency of necessary public services;

all of the above being the reality of Australia;

rather than the retention of those visible cultural practices which separate the population – often by intent, supported by the excuse of retaining ‘traditional culture’,

then ethnic or cultural identity would be a desirably subsidiary matter, but not competitive.

In the availability of policies offering equality and integration, why would a youngster born in Australia of ethnic ancestry, whether educated in a secular State school, or a religious school, choose to wear in public places a turban, or a skull cap, or a full-body-cover niqab, or even a hijab or a scarf covering the head, especially if he/she were a third-generation Australian? Surrounded by a wide variety of ethnic origins and mother-tongues, as well as by ‘mainstream’ Australians, what are some immigrant parents or their priests saying to their offspring and their multi-ethnic fellow-residents?

‘We are different’? Is that meant to imply ‘We are superior’, even to the host nation? The government of this nation allows immigrants into the country in the expectation of a united, coherent people arising in time from the admixture of ethnicities. It also ensures a secure life, with long-term welfare support. The nation does not need ‘campers’ refusing to become integrated.

Yet, a few of our Muslim immigrants have reportedly stated publicly their displeasure at Australia’s social mores. Why then stay? Other Muslim immigrants seek to have Australia’s long-established institution of law modified to offer sharia law. How so?  Immigrants adapt to the nation they chose to enter; not vice versa! These Muslims are the first and only immigrant individuals who want their ethnic identity to predominate over all other identities.

What are they really saying to the rest of us, when almost all Muslim people are no different from other law-abiding Australians? They are already free to practice those aspects of their culture which are not incompatible with Australia’s institutions and social mores.

What else are they entitled to, and why?


The folly of ethnic empowerment

About 30 years (roughly equivalent to the span of one generation) after the Australian government had sought (and brought) able-bodied European workers to contribute to the development of the nation; and the arrival of a number of war-displaced Europeans (the refugees); there was a surprising move by some Australians of immigrant descent. They claimed that English is not our national language.

As a former director of policy on ethnic affairs and multiculturalism, I (perhaps with tongue in cheek) asked my boss if Latin would meet the linguistic needs of all the Europeans in the country. Logically, in terms of a projected future, only Mandarin and Spanish might have qualified as Australia’s other national languages. But, what led to the ambition to downgrade English, already a universal language? The flexing of imported ethnic muscles!

The next step in this direction was the suggestion that immigration entry should be based on the proportions of the ethnic communities already in Australia. A similar claim had once been made in the USA. I was reminded of the White Australia policy, which was becoming progressively tinted; the hoped-for cosmopolitan Australia was to remain predominantly white, but not British.

The third proposal fell onto fertile policy ground. All of a sudden, in the 1970s, all that wonderful settlement assistance initially provided to the immigrants from Europe by the Anglo-Australian members of the Good Neighbour movement in the 1950s; and subsequently followed by employees of all agencies – both public (in the main) and private – endeavouring to guide non-English speakers to any services they might require; all this was suddenly claimed to be inadequate.

Instead of NESB immigrants (those of a non-English speaking background) being shown the way to available services for approximately 20 years, they were now to be taken there by social workers speaking the requisite languages. These workers would be employed by the various ethnic communities using government grants. It was a parallel settlement service that was sought, and achieved, at great expense.

Having had extensive contact (by chance and by choice) with immigrants and refugees since their arrival from the late 1940s, in the 1980s I questioned the need for this policy. In my capacity as Chief Ethnic Affairs Officer I heard strong criticism of this policy from established European immigrants from a wide range of countries. Since they had been able to settle in Australia successfully, where was the need for the new settlement policy, they asked.

Significantly, 2 notable senior ethnic community members, while careful not to publically challenge their younger compatriots, proposed to me a limit of 10 years for this policy. The ‘young Turks’, including junior academics, disagreed. Ethnic separation and empowerment were on the rise. Ethnic advisory councils, at both federal and state levels, proliferated, at great taxpayer expense. (Yes, I am a former Treasury official too.)

When the federal government came up with a policy of multiculturalism, to manage multiculturalism (whatever that thought-bubble was), I realised that this was no more than an exercise in competitive ethnic vote-catching. Significantly, when one government reduced the qualifying residence period for citizenship from 5 years (out of 8) to 3 years, the other then reduced it to 2 years. As we insiders said to ourselves, all that any of our imports with criminal intent had to do was to lie low for 2 years. They couldn’t then be deported.

What did multiculturalism policy achieve in terms of enhancing the successful integration of our new settlers? We were already relating to one another smoothly. We do not need the government or ambitious ethnic persons to tell us how to relate to one another.