Contributed by Joe Montero
I have come across a petition being circulated through social media, calling for imposing compulsory allegiance to Australia in all schools.
My immediate reaction was to reject the call. This is not because I do not want to be Australian and do not have allegiance to the country I live in. This is a good place for all its rough edges. Support for Australia does not mean blind support for a government or institutions that do not serve us well. A good relationship between individuals can only exist if there is room to be honest, speak one’s mind and even be critical when a need to be is seen. The same applies between nation and citizen. With this connection, the relationship is stronger.
This reminds me of my days as a senior school student. The Vietnam war was raging then. Most of us youngsters were against Australian involvement. We were especially against conscription. This consciousness led many of us to question other matters as well. Like, why do we stand up in the morning assembly to pay tribute to the British national anthem and why do we still raise a flag with that country’s symbol up in the corner?
In response, a few of us organised the senior students to turn our backs on the ceremony, as soon as it starts. We did this to the last. All other students of that school joined in. So did most of the teachers. The principal was left on his own, standing in front of us completely bewildered, embarrassed and not knowing what to do. Although he was particularly starry-eyed about the anthem and flag, the ceremony was never seen again in this school.
The reason why I have recounted this story is to say that in doing what we did, we showed we cared for Australia, and because we did, we wanted to live in an Australia that connected to the highest ideals. We wanted to be living in a country that stood up for justice and that did not go in for the exploitation of one human being by another. In our eyes, Australia was being damaged by the war. We believed that we had the right to have a say about those things that concerned us. We wanted Australians to take real pride in who we are, claim pour own destiny, stand on our own feet and move away from a colonial and subservient past.
Did this make us traitors to Australia? No. The opposite was true. It was those who stood by and used these symbols to denigrate, hold back and hurt Australia that were the betrayers.
When I see the same sort of element acting in a similar way today I react, as I believe many others will react too. The politics of jingoism and hate to divide Australian from Australian is not patriotism. It is the opposite.
To impose blind obedience to Australia is to damage Australia. I will not be signing the petition. But I will continue to raise my opinion that we are a nation of many parts, including the first Australians, who have come together and are creating a unique and new Australia and a new culture and nation that defines who we really are. I will continue to put forward my view that we can do even better, with a positive view for a future that treats all who live in this land as equals and where the power is no longer concentrated on the richest 2 percent.