Contributed by Jim Hayes
Waleed Aly was right to suggest in an interview with Steve Price (20 April) that the new citizen rules show Malcolm Turnbull is in political trouble.
The prime minister unveiled the new rules yesterday (Thursday) and the centrepiece is that new applicants will have to go through tests that shows their command of English and must commit to Australian values.
It is the failure to define what Australian values are that is the main weakness. Bound up with this, is the definition of what is it to be an Australian.
When John Howard tried to move in the same direction in 2006-7, the loss of the election prevented its implementation. But we can get a good idea from him, about the direction that Malcolm has now taken. Australian values were defined in very narrow terms. Essentially it meant accepting the Howard view of the world, of British heritage, the Queen, the white Australia tradition, conservatism, the flag and the ANZAC myth.
None of this has really ever existed. When the First Fleet arrived, there were already people living here. Not only that. There was also a high proportion of Irish on the convict ships. One of the main drivers of the Eureka rebellion was that many wanted separation from the British crown and its representatives here.
Australia had already become a multicultural society. Gold had brought in people from many parts of the word. Italians, Greeks, Eastern Europeans, Americans and people from the Middle East. There was also a large Chinese population. They brought their language and culture.
What about the flag? Many consider the Southern Cross raised at Eureka to be the true Australian flag. Its place in the heart and mind of Australia can be seen by the fact that the Southern Cross was included in the adopted compromise result. This compromise suited the British parliament when it passed legislation for home rule for the former colonies and it symbolised ongoing British political and economic influence.
This brings us the ANZAC myth. It is said that Australian soldier marched into World War One under this flag. They didn’t. Australian soldiers were under the command of British Generals and marched under the British flag. The soldiers were not happy about this and soon developed a reputation for insubordination.
Real Australian values emerged from this history and continue today. They include a leaning towards bucking authority and the dislike of pomp. Little time is given to obvious airs of class distinction. There is a belief in the fair go, looking after your mates and having a go when something is wrong.
These are Australian values. Of course, Howard and now Turnbull want to know nothing about this.
So why has Turnbull brought in the new citizenship requirements? The answer is simple. This is an obvious political stunt to counter his image as an indecisive and ineffectual leader, as well as another appeasement of the hardliners within his own party and government. He is in trouble and he knows it. What better evidence is there, than his refusal to come out clean on what he means by Australian values?