Friday 25th January 2013
This opinion piece originally appeared in The Australian newspaper on 25 January 2013.
Our national anthem used to begin with "Australia's sons let us rejoice for we are young and free". We were right to change it, but what was arguably lost in the change was the celebration of the nature of the special kinship we share as Australians.
The word "sons" not only conveyed a sense of intimacy but also the notion that as Australians we are joint heirs to an inheritance with an obligation to responsibly steward that legacy.
For all but our first Australians, we have been adopted into this land. Our national heritage is not a natural one. This creates an entirely different perspective on the relevance of race, ethnicity and religion to our national identity.
While all these elements certainly make up who we are as individuals, they do not define or limit who we are as Australians. As Australians, our nationalism is divorced from ethnicity, race and religion. This is not to downplay the contribution of the traditions, values and ethnic culture of the millions who have come to our shores, not the least being the liberal democratic institutions of our British founders.
Instead, such contributions are part of the process of transition from our old lands, culture and ways of life to the new.
Rather than limiting our national engagement to the experience of our own ethnic group or culture, we must encourage all Australians to access all our stories -- the indigenous, the settler, the federationist, the digger, the post-war generation, the migrant and the refugee -- to assist us in better understanding our path as a nation.
This is not a new idea. It was the express vision of the father of federation, Sir Henry Parkes, more than a century ago.
Parkes embraced the land of his adoption, as he termed it. His vision of an inclusive future was also a direct threat to the established interests of the young colony that had already asserted itself and sought to entrench its position by imposing the inequities of class and privilege from the old world.
Despite his passionate embrace of his adopted land, Parkes was not immune from old-world prejudices, most notably sectarianism. In 1869, he declared: "I do not want to see the majority of the people of this colony of the Roman Catholic faith. I do not wish to forget that I belong to a nation which is eminently Protestant."
The transference of sectarian prejudices, that divided Australians for more than a century, and the actions of our early bunyip aristocracy illustrate the dangers of clinging to the prejudices, practices and conflicts of our old lands, in this case by Anglo-Celtic, Christian migrants.
Parkes spoke of a land that would gather all the culture of the world under a flag of freedom, and so it has come to be. Australia is arguably the world's most successful immigration nation.
This success is no accident. It is the result of a carefully planned, merit-based, non-discriminatory and orderly immigration program. Supporting that program has been a settlement policy that is supposed to be about enabling people to adopt their new nation by embracing our values, learning English, getting a job and getting involved in Australian life to join us, not change us.
For the past four decades, multiculturalism has dominated our policy orthodoxy on social cohesion. The primary focus of multiculturalism has been to build an appreciation of ethnic and cultural diversity to combat intolerance and discrimination. It has had success on this front.
The Howard government sought to shift this emphasis of multicultural policy and adopted the term "Australian multiculturalism" to place greater focus to what communities had in common and their responsibilities as Australians. Labor has moved back towards the more traditional emphasis of multiculturalism, as practised and now strongly derided in Britain and Europe, on accommodating and promoting diversity almost as an end in itself.
After four decades promoting the virtues of diversity, with myriad taxpayer-funded programs, I do not consider that lack of appreciation of diversity is still the principal barrier. We should acknowledge that a consensus has emerged on the existence and benefits of ethnic, racial and religious diversity.
The question now must be what policies are needed to remove new barriers to full participation of Australians from our different backgrounds.
It is more likely such barriers are more specific to particular communities, are a function of social and economic forces and are located in discrete geographic areas.
The 2012 social cohesion study for the Scanlon Foundation found there is broad acceptance of the benefits of cultural diversity. It also discovered a growing frustration and disaffection among Australians living in areas of high ethnic concentration, caused by perceived social and economic failure in these communities and an increasing level of what I would term self-imposed cultural withdrawal.
It surely cannot be the purpose of multicultural policy that Australians elect to disengage from our society for religious, cultural or ethnic reasons.
This sounds a warning about the need to provide a greater focus on promoting what we have in common, rather than how different we are.
We must also send a strong message that cultural tolerance is not a licence for cultural practices that are offensive to our cultural values and laws, and that our respect for diversity does not provide licence for closed communities.
Parkes's notion of us being adopted sons and daughters provides a strong basis for such a post-multiculturalism approach. It takes us beyond our ethnicity, race and religion to embrace a more inclusive national identity, and asserts our obligation to honour the values, virtues and lessons of our complete heritage.
Becoming adopted sons and daughters of Australia can take time and is an interactive process. Our policies must provide that space and time to make the adjustment. However, there must be commitment to this goal up front.
Citizenship is the proclamation of this commitment to embrace our adoption as sons and daughters of this land, to honour the legacy and heritage of those who have gone before us, and to strive to protect it.
This is an extract of Mr Morrison's address to the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies in London.
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