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COMMITTEES, LEGISLATION AND TESTS May 22, 2007

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics.
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We have not as far as I know decided on what our national values are, as long as they are not John Howard’s. It is bad enough continuously it seems getting Howard News on the ABC, confirming the propaganda model of news, and reminding anybody with eyes and ears on a daily basis that governments that interfere with the necessary democratic institutions of a society, should have their commission examined, if not terminated.

Naturally, these goings on with the citizenship test attract interest in dear old Britain, and they some quaint conclusions, which it turns out are not too far from the mark. Instead of being half rational, and regarding the constant flow of irrelevant nonsense concerning sport as newsworthy,  as Howard for one apparently believes it to be.

As I recall, the Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Kevin Andrews, is a fine gentleman and very sporty type. As a lawyer, I would have expected him to have defined the issues at questions, and not miss the ball so abjectly in a fine flourish, reported by The Sydney Morning Herald:

Mr Andrews told a luncheon for the Committee for Economic Development of Australia that citizenship was about human associations and the moral commitment to Australia. He said identity – whether race, religion or nation – is what divided people. “It can also be what unites us,” he said. “That is why I say that the identity of being an Australian is what is primary as a citizen of this nation.”

From my point of view, at least, citizenship is about the potential for understanding and full participation in the society. There is a raft of things that people should know – how to cast a valid vote for the various levels of government, and who to approach, with what matters, at the various levels. By contrast, workforce participation is about skills, and I suppose that in some occupations English language skills may be essential. In a democracy, my skills do not matter too much, but my voice does matter. Workforce does not define citizenship, if anything it degrades it, witness the Work Choices legislation.

The policy of multiculturalism was not abandoned because of informed public debate. The decision was an executive decree, in which, as far as I am aware, the Parliament had no say. Work Choices was pushed through the Parliament, as if the debate did not matter. I think there is a case for examining our legislative processes. For example, I do not think there is any real basis for considering that elected governments get mandates for all their policies from winning elections. Whatever were the reasons the Liberals won the last election, it was not their Industrial(Workplace) Relations policy. I suggest that parliamentary committees should have a more integral role in the legislative process, to the extent that those groups who seek to shape or influence policy making should be seen to do so publicly, and the recommendations of the legislative committees should be independent of the executive.

No doubt others have covered this are more comprehensively. As it is these citizenship is purely driven by sectional groups and they are divisive. On the latter point it is worthwhile to recall Jeffrey Sachs’ words in his recent Reith Lectures in which he notes people have multiple identities, in an increasingly interconnected world:

We classify ourselves as New Yorkers, or Americans, or Jews, or Muslims, or professors, or artists, or bankers. In most cases, we are a part of many groups. Our identities are multi-faceted, and that knits us together in overlapping webs of trust and shared regard. Yet in an environment of fear, a single in-group, a single “us” can suddenly take over. The world becomes divided between “us” and “them.”

Postscript:

Who says it is easy to settle into a new country. We forget, or maybe we do not know. Here is the comment of my English speaking, Christian friend who has just migrated to New Zealand:

My family is fine – slowly settling down. Settling down in a new country is a long and painful process – full of changes, loneliness, frustrations, etc – but it is not too bad! We are doing okay here. I still miss Sydney heaps – and my family misses India all the time!

One thing leads to another – pretty much the spirit of this posting – but I talking about this post, and reference was made to Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, The Namesake. There is a short interview with Jhumpa Lahiri here. Let me hasten to add I have not read the novel.

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