On Australia Talks Back tonight you can hear (or will soon when the podcast appears) a whole lot of to-ing and fro-ing about citizenship and Oz Values, a theme the Howard government has been banging on about for years now. “The government is keen for more public discussion on who is accepted into the country, and what we expect from them. Is this an ideal opportunity to really reflect upon who we are and what we want for the future of the country? Or an exercise in xenophobia?”
Remember when state schools were traduced as “values-free zones”? The crux of that, of course, was not that state schools lacked values or didn’t teach them; rather, the values were not quite what the Howard world-view had in mind. I ranted about that in 2004: see here. I had another go in January this year. I still stand by those entries. See also my somewhat ironic look at Oz values 50s-style in A la recherche du Sydney perdu.
Meanwhile, Jim Belshaw has been running a very well-considered series on his more personal blog — as distinct from his New England Australia, where the latest entry has a nice tribute to this blog. (Thanks, Jim.) In his latest reflection on immigration, Jim writes:
At this point, I will simply pose two questions:
1. Why is it that immigration has become such an issue at a time when its importance relative to the size of the population is actually quite low, far lower than in the fifties and sixties?
2. Why has no one, at least no one on the official side that I have seen, linked the debate to Australia’s future needs?
As I understand it, and I stand to be corrected, we presently take three groups of migrants ranked by size:
1. Family reunions, the family of previous migrants who have become citizens.
2. Skilled and business migration, those people we want because they have skills or money.
3. Last, and a long way behind, refugees.
I am hard pressed to see what how these three classes link to our current obsession with values and citizenship.
One can only speculate, then, on what it really has to do with, but I suggest one can see a pattern (which I call a “culture war”) of which this is another episode. We are being Quadranted — again.