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What is this citizenship kerfuffle about?

Raja Ratnam is a Webdiarist who worked, at the level of Director, for about 9 years, in the Department of Immigration in the 1980s, on policy on ethnic affairs, citizenship, refugee and humanitarian entry. Under the name Arasa, he is the author of Destiny Will Out, a personal narrative based on his own work and settlement experience, The Karma of Culture‚ (Trafford Publishing, Canada) and Hidden Footprints of Unity (Sidharta Publishers, Melbourne). This is his first piece for Webdiary.

by Raja Ratnam

There’s a kerfuffle going on about the grant of citizenship and Australian values. What is it all about?

Before 1948, Aussies were British subjects. That was reasonable, since the population was almost wholly British in origin. The non-British present were not that different culturally, in terms of traditions and values. I mean, a field of wheat remains what it is even it is enhanced here and there by the presence of some rapeseed and other grains of value, does it not? Australians enlisted to fight for Britain, burying any priest-driven antipathy between Roman Catholics and other Christians.

In 1948, about the time I arrived in the country as a British subject, Australia introduced its own national identity. The pre-existing White Australia policy led to the first minister for immigration (Arthur Calwell) doing his best to keep the country white. I had Buckley’s hope then of ever being allowed to settle in the country, as I was coloured. Yet, I carried a British passport as a document of identity – and I had right of entry and residence in Britain as a colonial subject.

Ironically, in about 1982, it was my expert team in the Citizenship Branch in the Department of Immigration that carried out the first major review of our citizenship legislation. Almost all of our recommendations became law. The then prime minister (Bob Hawke) confirmed in the parliament the essence of the revised citizenship – a commitment to Australia. Amusingly, at about the same time, the British Government changed its laws to exclude people like me. No, it was not tit for tat! Just as Australia was no more Britain’s backyard, so Britain was no more a haven for former colonial subjects.

A key feature of my team’s recommendations was that no one could govern, fight for, or administer Australia without being an Australian citizen. As a consequence, an academic English friend of mine had to pay a re-entry fee to return to Australia whenever he attended conferences overseas; and his English wife had to obtain the grant of Australian citizenship to continue as a teacher in a state school. Their children, having been born in Australia, were Aussies by birth. Men who had fought overseas as Australians suddenly found themselves having to apply for Australian citizenship. This naturally upset a few of our military chieftains.

The large post-war immigrant intake from Europe settled in easily. The bulk of this intake came in as able-bodied workers. Even the middle class war-displaced Europeans had to work with their bodies and hands for a couple of years. They readily set out to learn English and to adapt to the institutions and social mores of Australia. Their successful adaptation to their new home is reflected in the absence of ethnic ghettos, and in English being the language used in public places. Contrary to some strident assertions by the more chauvinistic of the second generation Aussies (ie the offspring of immigrants, the first generation), no settlers were denied the right to continue to pray as they wished, to eat the food they wished, to speak their mother tongue, to dress as they wished, and to practice their own traditions. Australia is the country of freedom of expression. Cultural integration, not assimilation, was expected; and achieved.

The children and grandchildren of the immigrants make a real contribution to this integration. Just as the various tribes of the British Isles formed themselves into the British people, a revised Australian identity also evolved. Today’s school children do not appear to be as aware, as their parents might have been, of differences in religious beliefs, skin colour, and ethno-cultural practices. Their parents certainly displayed less prejudice than the grandparents might have towards people not of their kind. Our teachers also contributed substantially to this increasing tolerance and subsequent acceptance. Such social integration does not deny individuals their right of pride in their ancestry, for what that is worth, for we are all worthy.

All of the above is history. To keen and objective observers of society, much of it is not new. What is new and problematic is the complex impact of easy access to Oz citizenship; an increasing cultural and ethnic diversity in a much expanded immigration intake; claims from of the newer arrivals of cultural superiority; and a surprising upholding of ancestry and associated religio-cultural practices by some Aussies as somehow durable and unchanging for ever.

The problem commences with that simplistic ‘shopkeeper’ attitude that the more consumers we import the better, allied to a belief that the greater the ethno-racial and religio-cultural diversity the better. How so? No adverse consequences for that hard-won Australian identity signifying social cohesion? Who cares? We are multicultural, hooray, hooray! Look at our diversity in ethnic restaurants, and our colourful workforce at the ‘coalface’, viz. taxis, baggage handling, etc. etc. Yeah!

Another significant contributor to the current problem has been the official policy on multiculturalism. Under this policy, ethnic individuals and communities are free to practice those of their cultural traditions which are clearly not inconsistent with Australia’s institutions and social mores (repeat, social mores); and to tolerate and respect the cultural traditions and practices of other communities. So far, so good. Apart from some politicians seeking to have a secular Australia governed by the preaching of their priesthood, many members of our immigrant communities have actually merged cross-culturally in the past half-century. The exceptions are some of the more recent immigrants, including many accepted as refugees.

These have chosen to form residential communities, enabling them to enjoy social cohesion within each community. Again, this pattern poses no problem, as long as the members speak English in their pubic transactions, respect the rights and cultural traditions of others, and not isolate themselves as a superior ethnic community. If their priests and politicians do not prevent it, their grandchildren, if not their children, will ensure greater integration, through education. It is, indeed, a human instinct to reach out to other humans. So, what is the problem? A very short qualifying period of residence for citizenship allows any killers and criminals to keep their heads low before being protected by Aussie citizenship; and does not give enough time for non-English speakers to learn enough English to relate to fellow-Aussies, and to learn about Australian political, administrative and other institutions, and social and behavioural values and practices. Immigrants learn about these matters by associating with, and relating to, more established Aussies. It does take time. We do not surely want immigrants disadvantaged by living in tribal communities, with its attendant risks.

All human relations require a give-and-take approach, do they not? In a comparable manner, equal opportunity in life requires, whether we like it or not, a co-operative adaptability. When immigrants choose to present themselves as significantly different culturally – by clothing, behaviour, and expressed values, what are they saying? Could they reasonably expect the host nation peoples not to see them as ‘not one of us’? What keeps individuals and communities apart are asserted differences, based on a simplistic claim of superiority. What is it about an immigrant’s faith, cultural inheritance, and ancestry that prevents him from adapting to the nation which he chose to enter?

In this context, multiculturalism is merely a descriptor for ethnic and cultural diversity. Official multicultural policies encourage acceptance of others, whilst enabling the retention of cultural practices that are not incompatible with host-nation values. They do not permit the assertion of cultural hegemony or even divergence. They do not also impede the eventual integration of new arrivals into the host peoples. This is a desirable outcome, enhancing social cohesion in the nation.

In any event, an immigrant obtaining the protection of Aussie citizenship also achieves a new national identity. This identity joins the bundle of identities which each of us possesses, ie tribal, religious, etc. Acceptance of this national identity implies a commitment to the nation and to fellow citizens. Where another nation imposes its nationality upon the new Aussie, there is little he can do, other than to avoid military service in that country. If the new Aussie chooses and accepts another nationality without losing his Aussie nationality, then the Aussie nationality is tarnished. As well, to which country does this immigrant offer commitment? If the new Aussie chooses to retain his old national identity (which he is entitled to do under recent provisions for dual nationality), as a matter of convenience in travel and business, it also diminishes his commitment to Australia. If he chooses to fight for the country of his other nationality whilst a citizen of Australia, he will be seen as a mercenary, and using his Aussie identity as only a fallback position for security.

What will he then tell his children were they born in Australia and are thereby Aussie citizens? That their citizenship has no substantive value? What sort of nation does he think will result? What will Australia’s national identity mean to them?

Since the federal government has itself diminished the value of Aussie citizenship by permitting dual nationality, it may now not be important to ask an applicant for citizenship to know enough colloquial English, or to understand and accept the institutional and social values which underpin Australia, or to seek to integrate himself into the nation. Why should he? Aussie citizenship (with passport) is only another signifier of identity.

On the other hand, if the intending Australian citizen is not going to fight for another nation, or to live in another country under the protection of his Australian passport, perhaps he should be encouraged to join his children and grandchildren in sharing the Australian nation’s ethos. But, could he not do this without taking up Aussie citizenship?

So, what is this official citizenship kerfuffle about?


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Maniacal\laughter.org/au ZYKLON Bennelong

Kerfuffle?!?! I’ll give you kerfuffle, you cheeky Pommy bastard!

What this country needs is a good dose of Zyklon Bennelong™. That, and a dictator. And a good war. All of it. If only we could roll it all into one package.

And call it the Ku Klux Kirribilli.com. Boarder Protection. Keep our continent secure. And invade other countries, with the help of a giant American media mogul, whose own family has a proud history of profiting from wars on terror. Since August 1915. We always used to fix bayonets and kick off in Spring, and now everybody does. That’s venture capital for you.

And don’t take any Spring lip from darkies in the Solomon Islands. Get our Foreign Minister into khaki shorts and, sabre aloft, fire a few shots over their heads to disperse them. Frighten the others. We’ll show them k’n values!

When the sea’s rising around their grass skirts, they’ll be happy enough to be lured to work in our Far North Queensland cane fields, or picking bananas and mangoes. Lychees too. No more Pom or Irish backpackers!

The Melanesians will save our tropics until Wild Bill Heffernan herds millions of bankrupt farmers from the Great New South Wales Desert up there. Leave NSW to the camels and the cotton. The Far North has the climate for cane and pineapples and so on.

Until we can trick a generation of Siciliani and Calabriani, with a scattering of Pie’montese, to foster a white influence and gene pool in the Australian tropics Where the White Man Can’t Live or Work. Just holiday and gape at crocodiles and coral.

And do it with Racial Hygiene in mind. Australian values on the British model. The Westminster system. The British Union of Fascists. Australia’s New Guard. The National Civic Council. The League of Rights protecting the heritage of our breed.

A Hardworking, not very swarthy New Race beneath the Southern Cross. A new White Race, and a White Influence, albeit a white influence of Mediterranean appearance. The police will have to be on their toes. Bad enough with the Chinese and the natives everyhere.

Otherwise, before you know it, Johnnie Turk will be on our doorstep. Gallipoli. Mustafa Kemal Attaturk. Monica Attard, even, at Cronulla. Media Watch and all that Maoist ABC bias. David Marr. Reds Under the Beds. Yellow Peril. Green Zone. Saigon, all over again.

Uncannily, at the behest of the Greens, Australian native fauna and flora, without warning, kill Peter Brock and Steve Irwin, but spare Bob Brown and Julia Gillard. The Tropics again.

How can our just democracy fight terror in the face of such conspiracy? We must be able to interview gum trees and stingrays to learn their tactics, the location of cells, finances, etc. Robust interrogation, including sleep deprivation. Put Alan Jones onto at once, I say.

Meanwhile, should one wish to learn OzValuuz/Cronulla.org, the sacred religion of the High Priest of Packer/Kirribilli.org.com.au.gov, one should go no further than a look at the liturgy of the equally sacerdotal Generalissimo Brendan Nelson of Baghdad, as laid out by the now-for-sale Alan Ramsey of the 7.5% Murdoch-owned Sydney Morning Herald (21 October 2006):-


In “Cynical lesson on values and character” the bluff, much by-passed Ramsey spells out the code of those who might salute the Union Jack compulsorily erected on every OzKidz.com non-Maoist school newmedia flagpole.

It’s all spelled out on an absurd poster Ramsey says he greeted with “maniacal laughter.” One is glad that Ramsey’s doing his bit for such laughter.

Ramsay reckons of Nelson’s ‘must display’ (pre-Barbie™ Mao-Mao the flak catchers Bishop) kids’ wall-chart credo: “It's a striking poster. Set against a blue background, under a stylised logo of the Australian flag, it lists nine of what it headlines as ‘Values for Australian Schooling’.”

“Excuse the maniacal laughter, given what this Government has come to stand for after a decade's debauched political and policy behaviour, but here is the list [God it’s good to get a newspaper para having the words “maniacal” and “debauched ,” so close to each other!]:

Care and Compassion: Care for self and others.

Doing Your Best: Seek to accomplish something worthy and admirable. Try hard, pursue excellence.

Fair go: Pursue and protect the common good where all people are treated fairly for a just society.

Freedom: Enjoy all the rights and privileges of Australian citizenship free from unnecessary interference or control, and stand up for the rights of others.

Honesty and trustworthiness: Be honest, sincere and seek the truth.

Integrity: Act in accordance with principles of moral and ethical conduct. Ensure consistency between words and deeds.

Respect: Treat others with consideration and regard. Respect another person's point of view.

Responsibility: Be accountable for one's own actions, resolve differences in constructive, non-violent and peaceful ways. Contribute to society and to civic life. Take care of the environment.

Understanding, Tolerance and Inclusion: Be aware of others and their cultures. Accept diversity within a democratic society, being included and including others."

“At the bottom, in capitals, is the quotation, ‘Character is destiny’, from the 19th-century English novelist George Eliot, the nom-de-plume of the "magnificently ugly" Mary Ann Evans.

“Over the entire poster is superimposed an etching of - wait for it! - Gallipoli's Simpson and his donkey. The irony of the man/woman author of the quotation selected is as delicious as the Simpson imagery is obscene. Is there nothing this Government will not prostitute?”

All that’s missing from Brendan’s play-poster are rhe words “We will decide…”

And now to another weird far-Right conspiracy.

What is the connection between the odious Bennelong Group, masterminded by some of the Howard mob’s dirtiest race-hatred Kulturkriegsturmabteilung brown shirts, and the PM’s so-called Big Pharma Bennelong Gruppe?

The answer lies in the simple backyard manufacture of that mid-20th centrury wonder drug, and “magic bullet” - Zyklon B™.

Certainly the Bennelong Society’s use of Zyklon B™ was very helpful to the cause in its Culture Wars when Howard was suckling on copra in his 1939-45 swaddling clothes.

But now, with huge amounts of uranium and other valuable resources at risk, the time is right to clobber the natives with the metaphorical equivalents of the wonder pesticide so helpful to the West in its original War on Terror™ – the battle against the Bolshevik Jew trade union Slav Untermenschen Dolchstoss.

Just as in the Ukraine, Poland, Georgia, Hungary, the Netherlands and the Fatherland itself, now the West has a huge job of subduing the lesser races and then using the earth’s material wealth to better the species.

Hence the OzCulture wars kerfuffle.

Thank goodness we now have big media clans onside – thanks to a seeming erotic love of big mogul gambling families by Senator Steve Fielding.

Steve must be in line for this year’s Channel 9 Zyklon B™ prize at the next meeting of the Bennelong Society. Perhaps Eddie will dish it out live, as at the Packer Stoat Funeral.

There could be a goosestepping parade lit by blazing torches, and everyone fervently saluting Dear Leader. There could be book burnings. It could be just like his 2000 Olympics, but without that Cathy Freeman. And Stace’s “Etenity” on the harbour Bridge (back to front for the Western Suburbs – they can’t read anyway, according to News Limited™).

The future belongs to us! Sing, you bastards! Show some bloody values! LOUDER!! Especially you, Raja, up the back.

It's just a distraction

It's one of the many tricks used by a Prime Minister, who is utterly devoid of any policy who is becoming like a card sharp; as he pulls a new one out of his back pocket as all the chooks come home to roost.

Hundreds of world scientists were dismissed in his peculiar wave of the hand that global warming was some quaint theory and now suddenly it has dawned upon him (where have the Nats been hiding for the past few years ?) that we the century's worst drought gripping the country. His solution : throw billions of dollars at "heroic" farmers including the ones with useless land because they are victims of outside circumstances, unlike the unemployed or disability pensioners who must be insulted because they are, well victims of outside circumstances.

If "Aussie Values" means a requirement to become anything like the dull Andrew Robb, the serial liar John Howard, or the puce faced net stock wearer and Pacific rim insulter Andrew Downer, I'd renounce my citizenship tomorrow.

fix my tap

Jay Somasundaram: "Whe we say 'Aussie Values', do we mean Aboriginal values?"

Possibly, though I'm not sure what Roslyn would think of the strong patriachal and polygymous social structures that existed in traditional Aboriginal societies.

"What's more important for me? A guy who can fix my tap or a guy who can speak English?"

- Harry Triguboff, CEO of Meriton Apartments, explaining the logic of multiculturalism.

Harry is keen on immigration.

He'd like to see 20 million people living in Sydney by 2050 and a population of 150 million for Australia as a whole.

He's keen to get rid of the national parks as they're standing in the way of his vision for our future.

They take up space that could be better used for building apartments.

Aussie Values

Whe we say 'Aussie Values', do we mean Aboriginal values?

It's Simpler Than Our Way Or The Highway

The basic premise of nationhood, that a homogenous national entity exists and is to be preserved, is flawed; therefore the imposing of artificial regimes upon those that newly arrive in a "nation" is similarly flawed.

We acknowledge and respond to kinship because it is meaningful to us as individuals. Beyond this our associations are loose enough to be best described as "fluid". At its centre, kinship defines a special relationship that can be viewed as benevolent self-interest. As we extend the circle to include those not closely related by blood, the benevolence breaks down. Of course, all 6 billion of us are related by blood but not to a degree that easily translates into our acceptance of someone outside our general family circle.

The substitution of bonds other than kinship serves some useful ameliorating purpose but internecine conflict still abounds. It seems undisputable that as a species we are genetically predisposed to solve our problems violently. As Roslyn points out, the victims of our inability to be globally altruistic are, more often than not, women.

So what is the purpose of citizenship beyond the very basic issues of mutual survival, mutual accumulation of wealth, and for men, exclusive access to "our women"? The high-minded will espouse all forms of virtues that emanate from our having such a legal state, but at its core the reasons are base.

Perhaps it would be easier to understand how much the debate is cloaked in other language by asking the question: Who would be objecting or asking for ridiculous tests if only women emigrated to Australia?

Women who benefit

This current kerfuffle is as much about politicking as anything else although there are some useful suggestions involved, such as, an emphasis on learning English for prospective migrants. Learning another language, particularly for adults, is very needs based. The more you need to learn the more easily you will learn. This is why English language lessons would be most useful 'before' people arrive but are certainly necessary immediately upon arrival. They have been available of course, but not a requirement.

The biggest value in making basic English a requirement is for women. In patriarchal societies, and that includes the Greeks, Spanish and Italians, women have been more likely to stay at home and therefore it is harder for them to learn the language than their husbands who are at work and their children who are at school. I have a friend whose mother never learned English despite spending 30 years in Australia after emigrating from Spain. The position of women in orthodox religious environments is even worse. But the problem is certainly not new.

Neither is it particular to any one religion. Fundamentalist Christians, Jews, Hindus and Moslems all proscribe the ability of their members to truly assimilate. This is a particular problem for women given the patriarchal nature of all orthodox religion and it is a particular problem for children who are sent to orthodox religious schools.

I do not know that one can do much about this given the freedom that people have, and should have, to decide how they live and how they worship, but I do know that being required to gain basic English is going to help a lot of women. There daily lives will always be constrained but being able to speak the language to some degree means that they will be less isolated than they otherwise might be.

As to the value of citizenship: it is partly symbolic, a gesture of acceptance and belonging. But it also enables the individual to vote which is crucially important for anyone who is a part of a democratic society. I think it is an important gesture from the individual to the nation and from the nation to the individual.


Exactly. Citizenship is not defined (or mentioned) in the Constitution, it is set out in the Australian Citizenship Act 1948/1973. This means that politicians decide who is a citizen and what rights this entails. The various contingencies relating to citizenship are scattered across different acts and not codified in to one place, meaning there isn't really any "law" of citizenship in a strict sense, but piecemeal rules throughout legislation and case law, which is why you will be hard-pressed to find "Citizenship law" taught as a seperate subject.

The High Court has held that there are certain rights implied by the fact of citizenship, such as the right not to be arbitrarily detained, on the grounds that this would prevent a person from actively functioning in our democracy. Non-citizens, like asylum-seekers, are excluded from this and can therefore be detained indefinately.

I recommend any of the work by Kim Rubenstein on this subject.

She writes:

"The normative notion of citizenship is not as concerned with these legal questions; rather, it sees membership as becoming ‘increasingly universalistic and open-ended’. Citizenship is discussed in non-legal, normative frameworks in a variety of ways, primarily in terms that look to the material circumstances of life within the polity, and notably to questions of social membership and substantive equality. In this way the normative notion is much broader than the legal notion. It is a progressive project which is not just concerned with legal citizens, but with persons and the way persons should act and be treated as members of a community. In fact, there is a disjuncture between the legal notion, which is an exclusive one, and the normative notion, which seeks to be inclusive and universal.To that end, I will be using the terms ‘exclusive’ to refer to the legal notion of citizenship and ‘inclusive’ and ‘universal citizenship’ to distinguish the normative concepts of citizenship, thereby highlighting the tensions that exist."

Paul Keating's words on normative vs legal citizenship, from the are the best:

"Their exclusiveness, whether we are talking about White Australia in the past or boat people now, relies on constructing arbitrary and parochial distinctions between the civic and the human community. Who is in and who is out. Who is owed possession. Who has rights

If you ask what is the common policy between the Le Pens, the Terrablanches, Hansons and the Howards of this world, in a word, it is "citizenship". And it has always been. Who is in and who is out. Who is approved of."

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