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.