Values underpin all our actions – by their existence or absence. They are the key to successful immigration and integration.
Unlike the constitutions of the United States, France or Germany, the Australian constitution is a deeply prosaic document, more of an MOU on how government is to be organised than a statement of fundamental principles. It has proven perfectly serviceable as a contract among the states to co-operate as a federation, but says nothing of the values we share.
Nonetheless, Australians today do have shared values and our society is structured around them. We feel them, though most of us couldn’t clearly articulate them. As Dennis Denuto says in The Castle, it’s just the vibe of the thing.
Still, it’s no accident that Australians from a wide range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds have been able to form such a cohesive society. Australia has a long history of scholarly thought and, in certain circles at least, sophisticated debate around how to build a successful multi-ethnic society.
“thanks to our integrative approach Australia has avoided creating parallel societies”
It is thanks to this thoughtful, integrative approach to immigration that Australia has avoided much of the division and subsequent social unrest which is manifesting in the parallel societies of Europe.
It is vital that our immigration and residency criteria protect Australia from going down the path of a Europe which has been weakened by division and is now being wracked by Islamic terrorism.
One of the foundation stones of effective integration is a shared language. That does not mean the eradication of other languages – arguably we should encourage Australians to learn more languages from a younger age. It is simply a statement of the obvious: people who can communicate can participate more successfully than those who can’t. It is also a way of protecting new migrants against exploitation within their own communities and ensuring they can partake of the freedoms Australia offers; again, where Europe has failed to insist that immigrants possess a good command of the language, especially woman are often effectively held hostage by their inability to understand their right to state protection from domestic violence and other abuses.
Moreover, if you believe in a minimum wage, a standard of English which allows immigrants to participate fully in the economy is not “bizarre snobbery”, it is a protection against the language barrier discount which unscrupulous employers can impose on immigrants desperate to secure a path to permanent residency.
“the most important criteria for citizenship is the desire to share the Australian vibe”
But perhaps the most important criteria for citizenship is the desire to share the Australian vibe – that is, to live within the rules and values which underpin Australian society.
Asking immigrants to respond to “shared value” questions won’t guarantee that they actually share those values. But it will at least confirm that they have read them and are familiar with them. The questions will make signing the Australian Values Statement more significant – effectively, there will be no avenue to seek a reduced sentence on the basis of cultural differences, or a lack of familiarity with Australian mores.
Make no mistake, violations of the individual tenets outlined in the statement are already crimes. This will simply strengthen to the backbone of the rule of law.
Yet the ALP has called it “massive overreach”. The new criteria are steps which, according to Tony Burke, “Australia should never take and which are inconsistent with who we are as a nation.”
But then who are we as a nation? What do we stand for?
Is it equality between men and women that the ALP objects to? Freedom of religion? Respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual? A spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good?
It’s incumbent on anybody who objects to say.
Signing a statement of values won’t prevent security risks from entering the country but it will provide a strong basis for Australian society and law to deal with, and where appropriate deport, those who don’t uphold them. Enough with this hypocrisy. We need to preserve our Australian take on Western enlightenment values so that we can continue to be a beacon of freedom and prosperity for all.