CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Integration or Disintegration: A Test for Immigrants

Sep 16, 2006

Prime Minister John Howard has been receiving some flack (expectedly) from the left, the multicultural lobby, and the forces of PC, over some rather sensible remarks he made on Friday concerning immigration.

Speaking at a Greek community event, he suggested that would-be immigrants to this country seeking Australian citizenship should meet several simple demands: they should have lived here for four years, they should know a bit about Australian history and values, and they should be able to speak English.

Nothing too hardcore about all that, it seems to me. In fact, it sounds perfectly sensible. If a person wishing to live in this country is not willing to learn the language (and four years should be plenty of time for that) and understand a bit about what Australia stands for and believes in, including some of our history, then a good case can be made that that person is not fit for citizenship.

All this makes perfect sense. No country can long survive if it does not rest on a shared set of values and beliefs. While there certainly can be diversity, there also needs to be a core of unified values and convictions that all can agree to. Assimilation and integration, in other words, is vital to any nation seeking to survive and thrive. No country will succeed for long if it allows a million competing values, beliefs and languages to run unchecked, with no social and cultural glue to hold it all together.

Of course it is always difficult to get the right mix. Some nations, like Japan, achieve stability and integration because of its strong homogeneous make-up. Other countries, like Australia, that have a much more heterogeneous makeup, must work harder to achieve unity and cohesion. With so many different cultural, ethnic and racial groups all living in this continent, a core set of beliefs, a common language, and a shared view of what it means to be Australian are minimum requirements to achieve some sort of cohesion and stability.

It is simply national suicide to expect that a nation cannot discuss and seek to agree upon some common themes and core beliefs as to what that nation stands for and believes in. To expect unchecked diversity without some unity is a recipe for disaster. Yet many on the left seem to want just that.

Consider some of the reactions to Mr Howard’s proposals. Greens Senator Kerry Nettle said the Government was scaring people for cynical political advantage. What is so cynical about seeking national cohesion and unity? What is so horrible about wishing that assimilation, not disintegration, be the way ahead? Why are such common-sense steps opposed here?

The Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria condemned the proposed “draconian” changes as “cruel, unfair and against the national interest”. What is so draconian about this? Many European nations have much stricter rules, and much longer waiting periods. Indeed, a ten-year waiting period is not uncommon in Europe.

Incredibly, some described the proposals as “divisive”! For example, Australian Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett said the proposed changes “will be a waste of time at best – and socially divisive at worst – if it just involves shallow jingoistic nationalism and prejudice about Vegemite, mateship and the Melbourne Cup.”

But what is really divisive is coming to another country and refusing to even try to become part of it in various ways. Learning the language is the first obvious attempt that needs to be made. Division will certainly occur if the immigrant not only rejects the host nation’s values, but cannot even communicate in the country. That is real division. Unity comes when everyone can communicate with each other, and certain agreed-upon values are maintained.

Thus we need to reject this Orwellian doublespeak that suggest that such proposals are somehow divisive. Quite the opposite.

And Federal Labor seemed to be hypocritical in its denunciation of the plan. This is because just a few days ago the opposition leader Mr Beazley had proposed an even more stringent test, not just for would-be immigrants, but even for those simply visiting here! He suggests that everyone coming here sign a values pledge. Thus it is a bit rich for him to now condemn Howard with his less strict proposals.

Of course all of this is not to suggest that a new arrival here must abandon everything of the home culture. We value and relish our diversity here, be it the various Chinatowns in large cities, the community and cultural festivals, or other celebrations of ethnic origin.

But that can be retained while still seeking to assimilate into Australian life. As the Prime Minister said: “Nobody wants people to forsake their original culture or repudiate it, despise it …There is always a place in your heart for the country in which you were born. But there has to be a greater emphasis on integration into the Australian mainstream. … I’ve been saying that for 10 years or more and I think most Australians agree.”

The ironic thing about this whole debate is that most people who seek to come here presumably think this is a good place to live, perhaps even better than where they are coming from. If that is the case, they should have no problem embracing much of what Australia stands for and believes in. And learning the language should be a welcomed and expected part of this.

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5 Responses to Integration or Disintegration: A Test for Immigrants

  • “A city divided against itself cannot stand.” As an Aussie I feel honoured when a foreigner makes an effort to learn basic English & about my country’s history. It tells me they want to experience this country & not just live in it. People come to Australia because of our unique qualities and we should celebrate & encourage others to do also.
    I live & work in an environment where people who have English as a second language when they come to live our community for training are taught to share common values & are strongly encouraged & helped to improve their level of English. Why, because communication between two cultures is a two way street & it promotes understanding & stronger relationships. We do have people who are translators but it’s hard work. So stop the P.C and give people an opportunity to show how serious they are about taking on citizenship.

    Lyle Hutchinson

  • I agree very strongly with Prime Minister Howard’s suggestions to assist intergration of immigrants. It is well thought through, very much good old-fashioned common sense,& in a sensible society with no personal axe to grind, I think it should be welcomed & applauded. We need a united Australia, not a country divided by strong commitment to foreign values, & I use the word “foreign” advisedly, as Australia as we have enjoyed her for many, many decades will shortly cease to exist.

    June Westbury

  • It is just common sense. Why migrate to a country if you don’t want to be a part of it? It is plain stupid to move to a country you despise — unless, of course, it has good medical & social security benefits & permits migrants to plot its disintegration.

    P Donald, Melbourne

  • Thirty one years ago I received my Certificate of Australian Citizenship after arrival from Europe three years before that. In order to receive this certificate and the benefits of being an Australian, I was invited to make an oath of allegiance.

    I also chose to forego my European nationality. My thinking was, if I am going to make a go of this, I will go all the way. None of this carrying dual nationalities and multiple passports.

    The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary describes allegiance as: 1. loyalty (to a person or cause etc.) 2. the duty of a subject to a sovereign or government.

    How many people have come to call Australia home over all these years? Many thousands! The majority of us have accepted Australian values and standards, got on with our jobs and contributed to the common wealth and well being of this great country.

    Why is it that only in the last ten or so years some of the new arrivals have refused to integrate? Insisting to be different in so many ways? Where is their loyalty and allegiance to Australia? In all their behaviour I read defiance instead of allegiance. Why do they expect to be treated differently than those who have come before them?

    I agree with our Prime Minister’s suggestions.

    Someone once said: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

    Erik Werps, Melbourne

  • The years of multicuturalism are beginning to fade as migrants are now radily accepted into our society. The John Howard suggestions have all been extensively considered before by the various committees and councils trying to work out the best way to go in the interests of Aus and people approved for permanent residence in this country. Much has alresdy been done and one principal stands out (as a member of the (then) Department of Immigration for 14 years), and that is if the children of migrants are educated in Australian schools they quickly pick up the languages, the values and the history (if it is being taught). The big problem for the Federal Government is one of being able to encourage people from other countries to apply to come. With a low birthrate, we must have a significant inflow of migrants every year, say 125,000. Otherwise our population goes into quite serious decline. English as a second language classes must be available so more cost may be involved, not only for ordinary people but for highly skilled and professional people – in their skills! So much more cost is involved if we are to do things properly. I think there needs to be an examination by competent people (dare I say experts), in the various suggestions being made. Some references come to mind: Past records of the Immigration Advisory Council, Immigration Planning Council, Immigration Education Act and even the old Good Neighbour Council’s annual reports. A considerable amount of publicity surrounded material made available to and for migrants so the Immigration Publicity Council could show what has been done in the past and today. And one publication could be helpful if it is still available: “ALIEN To CITIZEN” by Ann-Marie Jordens, Allen & Unwin, 1997.

    Peter Rice 

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