Thursday 16th December 2010
“From migrant to citizen: testing language, testing culture”
edited by Professors Christina Slade and Martina Mollering.
SYDNEY INSTITUTE 16 DECEMBER 2010
Well, Gerard, it’s a great pleasure to be here again at the Sydney Institute and to Martina and Christina it’s also a great pleasure to be here with you today and thank you for the opportunity to come and launch this book.
I’m very passionate about issues relating to citizenship and I’ve expressed those views on many occasions and particularly, I welcomed the opportunity to do so here at the Sydney Institute on earlier occasions. The thing about launching books is that the whole point is that they foster a debate; they contribute to that debate and that they tease out the various elements of that debate and I’m very keen to ensure that we have a very robust and very mature discussion about citizenship issues in this country and that’s why I welcome “From Migrant to Citizen: Testing Language; Testing Culture”. I think the opportunity to have work of this standard out there and informing debate and challenging our own ideas, including my own, I think is extremely important.
Now Martina and Christina have jointly edited this collection of papers, which includes Martina’s study on the evolution of German citizenship and Christina’s chapter on the shifting landscapes of citizenship. This book is a testament to the dedication and commitment of both women to this very contentious field and I offer my sincere congratulations.
“What it is to be a citizen is not a simple matter” writes Christina Slade, in the first line of the first Chapter of this book. John Stuart Mill was of a similar frame of mind when he wrote in 1861:
This feeling of nationality may have been generated by various causes. Sometimes it is the effect of identity of race and descent. Community of language, and community of religion, greatly contribute to it. Geographical limits are one of its causes. But the strongest of all is identity of political antecedents; the
possession of a national history, and consequent community of recollections; collective pride and humiliation, pleasure and regret, connected with the same incidents in the past.
None of these circumstances, however, are either indispensable or necessarily sufficient by themselves.
He goes on to say, and I think this is the really important point and why this discussion is so important:
…Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities. Among a people without fellow-feeling, especially if they read and speak different languages, the united public opinion, necessary to the working of representative government, cannot exist. John Stuart Mill, Chapter 16, Of Nationality, as connected with Representative Government in “Representative Government”
Now he said that almost two centuries ago. We will continue to grapple with the definitions of these matters for some time. Recently as I said I made some of my own observations on this topic. While I may be in disagreement with some of the issues and ideas put forward in this publication, for example, I’m not one who thinks that we are prisoners of our past in this country. I think this has changed significantly in a fresh and honest appreciation of our past. Whether it is the national apology, whether it is the appreciation of what I called in my maiden speech our history in full, vibrant technicolour, widescreen, digital, views of our history. I think that’s very important, we understand the good, we understand the bad, and we understand how all of that has contributed to who we are today. That is the sort of narrative of Australian history. It’s neither a black armband view nor a white armband view, I don’t think we should have an armband on at all; why don’t we just call it like it is and understand the implications of that story for today. So today, in that speech a few months ago I made a point that I’d like to focus on, if I may, as my contribution to the debate we’re having today.
I genuinely and strongly believe that a set of national values can be inclusive and something that we can all embrace; something that ties us to our past and that enables us to move into our future with confidence. When I talk about a set of Australian values, I talk about it not as defined by culture, or ideology, or religion or race or any of these things. I think the notion of values transcends all of these things. I think we can come from different cultures, we can have different backgrounds, we can even speak different languages obviously, but we can share common values. Those values can exist at the most obvious level in terms of support for the rule of law and sound governance and things of this nature, but they also go through to what we like to talk about in this country as the “fair go” and what that means.
My argument is that this story of Australian values has weaved its way through to the current day; whether it’s the colonial experience on a site like this one over two hundred years ago, or in my own electorate of Cook where James Cook first landed in 1770; whether its what we saw in the values of Australians in the battlefields of Gallipoli or frankly if its in the heroism and compassion and the humanity of what we saw from Australians on Christmas Island yesterday; there is clearly a set of values and a set of commitments that we share as Australians.
That is ultimately what is most important, I think, about being an Australian citizen. How we actually imbue that into the population, how we encourage that, how we foster that through citizenship tests or other mechanisms, that is the machinery of this process and this book I think goes into great detail about the flaws, the challenges, the weaknesses of these various approaches which we need to be very mindful of. But let’s not lose sight, in sometimes our failure to grapple with the machinery correctly, of what the greater goal is; and that is to reinforce the fact that citizenship in this country enables us to participate and most importantly, it enables us to contribute most significantly.
In the book, and I’ve departed completely from my notes now, but in the book, Catriona Mackenzie talks about three elements; legal status, citizenship identity and active citizenship or civic virtue. I quite ...
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