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Friday, February 24, 2006

Valuing our birthright

Peter Costello is to-day sounding off about Australian values and citizenship. There is much in what he says - but it has a singular point of reference: those who do not accept the secular rule of law in a pluralist democratic society. Costello says, amongst other things:
No one is going to respect a citizenship that is so undemanding that it
asks nothing. In fact our citizenship is quite a demanding obligation

I think this is the heart of the matter: that by and large there has been little or no respect in Australia for citizenship - and I am not singling out terrorists or any ethnic group. I just do not believe we truly value what we hold. Look at the track record: the number of people who live here as permanent residents, who could take out Australian citizenship, who reap the benefits of living here and expect to cherry-pick what they want from our society - but they don't take out citizenship. How many British and New Zealand citizens are in this group? Look too at the teaching of civics in our schools. Look at the erosion of so many things that we have taken for granted:

  1. The attempts by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Nick Minchin, to take away compulsory voting. Does he really want Australia to be like the USA where the President almost never receives the votes of the majority of Americans?
  2. Attempts - and in some areas of the law this has already occurred - to do away with trial by a jury of twelve with unanimous verdicts to supplant it with hearings by a judge or a jury of fewer people or majority verdicts.
  3. The rights of all citizens to access the law - when access to the law has become more a right of the rich.
  4. The right to have government assistance when abroad. Things may have improved in this regard but it is still a hit and miss afair and if you fall foul of the politics of the Australian government as David Hicks has done, forget it. Blair and the Brits can extricate their citizens from the madness of Guantanamo Bay, the US takes umbrage if any of their citizens are threatened, and yet we leave a young citizen to rot with none of the legal rights that Australians take for granted - and certainly no access to rights under the Geneva Convention.

We Australians also need to recognise our historic exclusion of people - Aborigines from civil rights until 1967, selectivity in immigration under the White Australia Policy, and continuing selectivity by herding some immigrants into concentration camps known as immigration detention centres. We are happy to control and/or manipulate access of some to Australian law.

Our right to free speech and the democratic hallmark of transparent governemnt is limited when major social organisations in Australia are forced, if they want to receive any government funding, into silence as a condition of funding and when governments can indulge themselves in secret dealings of dubious nature and claim commercial-in-confidence dealings.

Lastly, we won't look to closely at flawed business and educational immigration programs where we have been only to happy to sell our birthright for a mess of pottage allowing criminal elements to infiltrate and unqualified people to conjure up Mickey Mouse courses while our own students are increasingly priced and placed out of university places.

Citizenship. I'm in favour of it. I am a sixth, possibly seventh, generation Australian. I am proud of the place. I just wish I saw governments, both state and federal, value it as much as I do.