Moving on from White Australia: Election 2022?

Despite years of critique the Australian national parliament has been overwhelmingly White and massively male, unlike the country as a whole. But something changed at the 2022 election – most clearly around racism and sexism. How might this play out in the negotiations to come?

The Whitlam government supposedly ended the White Australia policy in 1973. For fifty years though, White Australia has hung on in the elite structures –Commonwealth cabinets, the High Court and the ABC Board as examples, even while changing at state and especially local levels. Prior to the 2019 election I argued that we would realise down the track that “Election 2019 was the last White Australia election, in which Euro-Australians dominated the parliamentary seats and both major party leaderships, and where xenophobia was the insistent leitmotif of the Right“. If this election marks an ending for White Australia we would expect to see change in voting, representation and policy.

Just before the election the BBC asked why the Australian Parliament was so White (and male). Sydney Policy Lab director Prof Tim Soutphomassane noted recently that “a celebration of cultural diversity has never been accompanied by a sharing of Anglo-Celtic institutional power”. Peter Khalil, an ALP MP , said in November last year that Australian politics was still swamped by an “Anglo Boys club”. Opting to describe himself as one of the 21% of the population who were NIPOCs (non-Indigenous people of colour) he reflected on years of racism and marginalisation he had experienced and witnessed inside the ALP and outside.

At the 2022 election the trajectories of change differed from each other along almost every conceivable parameter that was not old White male: middle aged well off White women took the elite Liberal urban seats from men. Younger people of colour, usually women, took many of the new Labor seats. Smart mainly young White people took the seats that were turning Green. White Australia was fragmenting along race and gender fault lines. The LNP was left with almost only older White guys in the House.

Voting

The election demonstrated the salience of specific ethnicity in contributing to voter-decisions in many seats, while the more general concern about rising racism played out for a more diverse electorate. “The Chinese vote” has been a focus for interest with many newspaper articles reflecting on the impact of the bellicose rhetoric of the LNP towards China and its impact on the “safety” that Chinese-ancestry voters felt with the conservatives. The Tally Room blog has argued that there was a significant shift towards the ALP (or better put, away from the Liberals) in electorates where the China-ancestry vote was significant. Where the opportunity existed for a potentially-successful Asian or Chinese candidate for the ALP, they were usually successful.

In Fowler, which is a very multicultural electorate with a large Vietnamese community (many with Chinese ethnicity) where the ALP ran the seemingly-resented candidate Kristina Keneally, the ALP vote dropped by nearly 19%. The local Independent Dai Le picked up all nearly all those previously ALP votes, while also taking nearly all the votes that left the Liberals (13%). The Senate vote in Fowler for the ALP also dropped significantly (8%) from 2019, while the Liberal vote rose slightly. In effect the ALP’s safest seat in NSW most likely cost the Party a secure majority.

The key electorates where an apparent anti-Liberal shift in the Chinese-ancestry vote was determinate included Bennelong, Reid and Parramatta in NSW, Chisholm, Higgins and Kooyong in Victoria, and Tangney in Western Australia (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-05-24/chinese-australian-vote-election-swing-labor/101091384). Some benfitted the ALP, some the Independents.

Representation

Peter Khalil (Wills, Vic) and Dr Anne Aly (Cowan, WA) had been fairly lonely non-European members of the ALP Caucus until the election. Aly (her origin is Egyptian Muslim) worked tirelessly during the long COVID lock-down in Perth to build opportunity for candidates of colour. In Perth Sam Lim (a Malaysian-Chinese immigrant) took Tangney with a 11% swing, building on his deep links with communities throughout Perth as a key police liaison person during the lockdown. Zaneta Mascarenhas, born in Kalgoorlie, whose parents arrived from Goa in 1979, took Swan with a 12% swing. Aly herself increased her vote in Cowan by nearly 10%.

In NSW the 9% first preference swing against Liberals in Bennelong was achieved by Jerome Laxale,the popular Labor mayor of Ryde, whose parents were Francophones from Mauritius and Le Reunion. He repeated the victory that Maxine McKew had achieved against John Howard in 2007, also with strong Chinese and Korean support. McKew though was another outsider Capatain’s pick, and could not hold the seat against John Alexander. Kristina Kenneally tried to take it as a Captain’s pick in a Section 44 by-election, but did not get that local support and failed. In Reid a popular local candidate, Sally Sitou, of Lao Chinese background, reclaimed the seat for the ALP with an 8% swing, on the base of very strong Chinese support.

In Victoria both seats that went to the ALP were won by “ethnic background” candidates. In Chisholm Greek-background Carlina Garland saw a 7% swing away from Gladys Liu, though only 4% went to the ALP. In Higgins Dr Michelle Anada-Rajah, a Tamil born in Sri Lanka, saw a 5% swing away from Liberal Dr Katie Allen bring her 3% of first preferences.

In summary of the ten or so seats the ALP won from the Liberals across the country, six were won by “ethnic candidates”, four of whom were people of colour. On the other hand the seven new “teal” seats, though all won by women, are all now represented by Euro-Australians (aka Whites). So how might this matter?

Policy

The ALP released its Election Statement on Multiculturalism under the names of Katy Gallagher (Finance) and Andrew Giles (Multicultural Affairs) two days before the vote and well after most of the pre-polls and postal votes had been cast. The Statement appears pulled out of the 2021 Multicultural Engagement Taskforce Report chaired by Peter Khalil. Two critical additions include a commitment to a Multicultural Framework Review, which will have to consider whether Australia should have a Multicultural Act (which is Green’s policy), and a re-assessment of the standards for measuring Australia’s diversity. The COVID pandemic and the failures to protect multicultural communities have foregrounded the urgencyof these issues .

It is unlikely the LNP or the Teals will have an interest in or an appetite for pushing these concerns to the top of the food chain. However the new ALP NIPOCs and the Independent Dai Le will have a major investment in exactly that dynamic, creating with Aly and Khalil a significant bloc. The new government’s best-known leaders are Albanese and Wong, two surnames drawn from the deep hinterland of multicultural Australia. Farewell White Australia?

How will ethnic Australia vote in 2022: an essay in memory of Jim Jupp

For Jim

James Jupp died early in April at the age of 90. Jim remains a towering figure in Australia’s knowledge of its own diversity, an instigator and creator of some of our most powerful documents of memory, and a continuing challenger to the worst aspects of Australian racism and self-satisfaction.

There are nearly twenty years between us, he a child of the Depression and War, me a post-war reffo kid drawn to understand the strange land in which my parents had concluded their escape from European and Asian tyrannies.

His passion for politics began early. He attended the London School of Economics in the post-war expansion of education under Labour, where he completed a Masters thesis on the Radical Left in Britain. He deepened his fascination for party politics and the interaction between morality and venality.

Armed with his M.Sc (Econ) he set out for his Australia on his own money (he was not a Ten Pound Pom as he had not done his national service and Australia would not fund him). He was on a vague promise of a job in Melbourne from Hugo Wolfsohn, a Melbourne University politics academic , a Dunera refugee, then visiting the LSE. Sailing from Marseille through Singapore to Fremantle, Jim arrived penniless, staying at the Salvation Army hostel. Borrowing the train fare from Bill Hartley, a left-inclined activist he had met on the ship, he travelled across the country to Melbourne. Jim became involved with the ALP in Melbourne during that period after the Split. Six months after his arrival he became a senior tutor in politics at Melbourne University.

I first met Jim Jupp through reading his Australian Party Politics as an undergraduate in the Government program at Sydney University in the late 1960s. It’s also where I read his first book on immigration, Arrivals and Departures.  By then he was back in the UK at the University of York – heading the Department of Politics there when he met Marian at a political science conference, and the rest is history – 44 years of a great marriage.

Jim seemed to have an attraction for the Dominions, moving to Canada for a few years in the mid-1970s, where he completed his PhD through London University on democratic politics in Sri Lanka. From a chair in Politics in Canada, he returned to Australia in 1978 to become Principal Lecturer at the Canberra CAE. He then went on to establish the highly regarded and pivotal Centre for Immigration and Multicultural Studies at the ANU.

Now a mature scholar with a ferocious appetite for work (he always intimidated me) he created an expansive and insightful set of projects without which it would be hard to imagine Australian migration, multicultural and political studies today. Although he was working with the inheritance of the earlier founders – such as Jean Martin, Jerzy Zubrzycki and Charles Price- he was able to integrate their different perspectives into a much more multifaceted and interdisciplinary project that was quite his own.

His interest in the politics of immigration and the dynamics of policy led him into many engagements with government, including the chair of the Hawke-era review of Multicultural policy (ROMAMPAS). Its report demonstrated his emphases on equity, fairness, participation, cultural respect and reciprocity: to my mind it is by far the best of the many attempts to portray the complexities and opportunities of multiculturalism in Australia over the past 45 years. However he recognised that governments were fickle beasts who could not be fully trusted to hold to rationality, let alone principle. It was in that context I think that he decided an important contribution he could make would be to create a real and collaborative history of multicultural Australia and the peoples who had made it. In 1984 he convinced the Hawke government to support the preparation of an Encyclopaedia of the Australian People, drawing on his own amazing network of scholarly and community contacts. It would be one of the most important mementoes of the Bicentennial year in 1988, recognising the integral place of Indigenous Australians, and publishing challenging analyses of the country that Australia had become, while offering stimulating visions of the country it could become.

He was distressed by the resurgence of racism that had characterised the 1996 election, and the destruction of so many institutions of multiculturalism that followed the Coalition victory. His commitment to knowledge about Australia as a crucial element in reducing the ignorance on which prejudice was based, drove him to convince the Council of Australian Governments (with the advocacy of Jeff Kennett) to support a new edition of the Encyclopaedia, which was published for the dawn of the new century in 2000. 

Jim early recognised that the big debates about cultural diversity were already being superseded by the emergence of religion as a defining line within Australia. His Encyclopaedia of Religion in Australia from 2009 (the third of his volumes in which I was privileged to have a commentary) remains a stunning survey of the diversity of beliefs that humanity can pursue within a single society.

There are many other dimensions of Jim’s work and life that we could explore and perhaps his friends will gather in the future to undertake that joyous and revealing task.

His last work An Immigration Nation Seeks Cohesion brings together his life’s passions. Written in his mid 80s and drawing on his work across all the fields in which he had contributed, there is a chapter that contains his vituperative and unrelenting commentary on the collapse of a humanitarian morality in Australia. Jim echoed Karl Marx’s words, as he reflected on White Australia, where history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce.

He passed the book to me when we last met at the International Metropolis Conference in Sydney in 2018. In a somewhat faltering hand, it is inscribed “Best wishes to Andrew, a great friend over the years, Jim Jupp”.

Election time – shaping up for the ethnic vote debate

The debate over whether an “ethnic vote” phenomenon exists in Australia re-emerges at each Federal election; and here. Broadly put, some argue that at the margins people from ethnic communities can be influenced by issues which are cultural rather than economic, or which relate to their countries of origin rather than to their duties as Australia citizens. The rise of racism (as with the emergence of Pauline Hanson’s movement in 1996) can drive those who feel targeted, to support parties with anti-racist programs. Particular candidates can also instigate opposition based on anti-racism, as when the Chinese and Korean communities organised to defeat John Howard in Bennelong in 2007, then swung back to the Liberal Party with the moderate John Alexander.

In 2016 I suggested issues associated with ethnicity would play a critical role in the deciding votes in marginals with significant multicultural populations. As it turned out they did – delivering at least two seats in NSW and one in Victoria to Turnbull, and thereby government.

In 2019 I suggested that ethnic voters might well save Morrison’s government. While Queensland proved more important in the large, the saving of Chisholm and Reid gave Morrison the tiny buffer he needed to gain a plurality. Some of the resistance to the ALP push came in Labor electorates, where the “ethnic vote” was focused on conservative religious values displayed during the 2017 same-sex marriage plebiscite, ultimately recruited by the commitment of the LNP to pass a religious discrimination act if re-elected.

Christina Ho and I drilled down in the 2019 results for the marginal Liberal seat of Banks, concluding that the Chinese Australian voters (a grab-all that conflates many divergent tendencies and backgrounds, but captures the “visible minority” element relevant to experiences of racism) tended to be slightly more pro-Labor than the average voter, but followed the broader swing towards the Liberals.

The heightened awareness of the role that ethnicity may play in this election derives from three factors – the salience of international affairs (China, Russia/Ukraine, India) in public discourse, the quantum increase in the take-up of citizenship from the waves of arrivals in the high immigration years before 2017, and the appearance on the political scene of the second-generation of earlier arrivals in significant numbers. There are also a number of both first and second-order issues that have particular salience for some ethnic communities.

The government pandemic responses have unlocked insights into structural discrimination against ethnic minorities that have long been buried under the “most successful multicultural society in the world” slogan. The high rates of death among ethnic communities, the economic and social undermining of their well-being through lockdowns which affected industries employing high proportions of ethnic workers, and the unrelenting experience of reinvigorated racisms experienced by people of colour, have demonstrated that Australian multiculturalism faces critical challenges.

Where the Parties Stand

A statement on cultural cohesion promised for 2021 by Minister Alex Hawke has not eventuated, while the April 2022 Budget cut expenditure for multicultural programs by 10% (at page 41) , and reduced support to the Human Rights Commission for anti-racism programs going forward. The ALP has not yet released its main policy goals, though a policy report on Multicultural Engagement from 2021 was very limited in its goals and did not include earlier commitments from 2016 and 2019 to expand government multicultural policy capacity. The Greens proposal for multicultural legislation sits undebated before the Senate, though the party has re-visioned its anti-racism policies, including the proposed Act once more. At time of writing the main parties all agreed to provide policy updates, but have not yet done so.

The Federation of Ethnic Communities of Australia (FECCA) has an election wish-list. It wants an Office for Multicultural Australia covering the whole of government, based on a commitment and strategy to advance a fair and inclusive society.

It may be moot to what extent the policy choices offered by the parties in cognate areas actually capture the attention and enthusiasms of significant voting blocs. However, it is at the margins that choices made have an impact on outcomes. Critical electorates with significant ethnic populations include Parramatta, Reid, Banks, Greenway and Lindsay in NSW, and Chisholm, Bruce, and Wills in Victoria. Then we need to add the high Jewish population areas of Goldstein and Wentworth where the teal independents also face populations with significant proportions of overseas-born, also apparent in North Sydney. These are the areas most opposed to the arguments of supporters of religious discrimination legislation.

On the ground

An early focus on Chisholm and Parramatta helps clarify what impact an “ethnic bloc” might have. Noting that the 2021 Census will not be released until June, the data depends on 2016 – more than five years ago and a pandemic in between – the two electorates are apparently different but may have many similarities.

Almost half the population of Chisholm reported speaking a language other than English at home. The electorate had a China-born population of 14%, with 17% having both parents born in China. About 20% spoke a Chinese language at home, with 15% speaking Mandarin and 5% Cantonese. The next major language was Greek. However in the intervening period, the Chinese population would have grown and the Greek declined. Reflecting the high proportion of the China-born population, 36% of the population reported No Religion, while 6% reported Buddhism. In 2019 the Greens vote of 12% and the ALP of 34% were insufficient to halt the Liberals win – with a primary vote of 43%, though suffering a swing of just over 2%. The informal vote at that election rose by 50% to 4.5%. In 2022 it will be the LNP Gladys Liu against ALP Carina Garland.

Over 60% of the Parramatta population spoke a language other than English at home, with Arabic and Mandarin equal on 8%, Cantonese and Hindi about equal on 5% and Tamil on 3%. About 15% were born in India, with another 8% in China. Hinduism and Islam were highly-represented as religions, though the largest religious group was Catholic. Since 2019 the sub-continent population has risen, with many more becoming citizens. In 2019 Labor led the Liberals on first preferences, (45% to 41%), with the Liberals helped out by the UAP and the Christian Democrats. The swing to the Liberals was 7%, with an informal vote of 8%, steady from 2016. While the ALP secured a 2pp win of nearly 6000 votes, the seat is being strongly contested. In 2022 it will be ALP Andrew Charlton against LNP Maria Kovacic.

Do It Yourself

Readers can explore their own electorates (here given for Chisholm) by searching the ABS Quick Stats and the AEC Tally Room.

Gaming the Virus: fighting the last war cannot win the next one

Gaming the virus in NSW: how fighting the last war will not win the next one.

One of the few extraordinary benefits for sociologists of the pandemic must be the real time experiments it generates in the relation between social theory and social practice – or put succinctly, how class continues to be an issue in contemporary Australia, most sharply in neo-con libertarian jurisdictions, less so but still there in more social democratic communalist states. Alan Kohler has pointed to the failure of conservatism (he is too hopeful) while Ross Gittins sees the pattern of infection as a reflection of class (too absolute though getting there). Age, race, and gender were called out early on. The virus is alert to the best social space for its transmission to accelerate, where crowding at home, at work and travelling, poor communication, and a mobile population produce the optimum hosts. If trust fractures so that the capacity of the social order to protect people from the virus is undermined, then that social order can rapidly follow. The social remains only a step ahead of chaos, imbued with the ever-present imagined tension between individual and communal well-being.

As the public imaginary has become saturated with metaphors for the “battle” against COVID19 Delta, so the real-world takeover of the key cities in Afghanistan by the Taliban has dominated the real politik. Just as the American Maginot line at Kabul was overwhelmed by the Afghan anti-imperialists, COVID is surrounding and breaking through our defences. The Taliban is a social movement, the impact of which on modern social values and relations we may well abhor. COVID Delta is a social disease, the impact of which on our social sinews – trust – we should rightly fear.  The moment Trump decided to get out (almost the same strategy he propounded in the USA against COVID in 2020) the idea of a single line of resistance that could be sustained by the Kabul government was undermined. Giving up on COVID Zero has a similar smell about it. We must learn to live with them both, some of our leaders now pronounce.

Returning to the COVID battle, there have been calls to refresh the ANZAC spirit, stand together, and face the foe (though Gallipoli was just a better version of the Kabul withdrawal – better planned and executed but in essence the same). We have been told we will be “throwing everything at it”, and sending in our best and bravest. Instead of generals fighting the last war (though we have some of them), we have scientists, grim faced, calling on the citizen soldiers to stand firm, obey orders, and suffer for the greater good. Uniforms abound in the battle lines – police, nurses, military – some with boots on the ground, some with needles in our arms, some now with pepper bombs. Arm-chair strategists and tacticians (including yours truly) argue the toss, seeking to decipher the war plan of a now enshrined and variously interpreted Doherty Report.

Meanwhile cells of guerrillas jump the lines, acting as carriers for the virus as it seeks out the least socially integrated and most distrustful populations as its primary vectors.  It breeds too in the densely settled and impossibly crowded parts of our cities, as well as in the least well-defended outstations of urbanity. The emotions of fear, anxiety, and desperation multiply, while the elites in their palaces announce nostrums that simply erode the capacity of the key weapon, trust, to do its work of building resilience and security.

Sticking with the perhaps overworked metaphors, our best weapon against the virus remains the same one that so escaped us in Afghanistan, on the ground, people-based Intelligence. Intelligence is based on thousands of pieces of information, carefully collected and assessed, integrated and tested, applied and projected. In Afghanistan “our side” allowed our fantasies to supplant our science. Ditto in NSW as our troops chase around the landscape, always in arrears, always behind the ball.

Let us return to the claim “we are throwing everything at it”. We didn’t in Afghanistan and we are not doing it here; we fight with one hand behind our backs because we do not trust the people who are taking the brunt of the attack. We have little or any intelligence of where the virus will crest next – all we know is what has happened, not where we need to be to stop the spread. We have no real idea of how the affected populations are withdrawing from the battle, misleading us into believing that what we see is what is real.

We operate as though we need to placate the as yet minimally affected allied populations to keep them happy with the elite’s management of the war, rather than being smart and breaking the onslaught where it is weakest, while containing it where it appears strongest. We fail to ask the simplest question of our multicultural population – who are you and how do we help you to join the battle for what we call “freedom”?

In the year since it became clear that ethnicity was a proxy for many other dimensions of vulnerability (another echo of Afghanistan) , we have tested millions of Australians, many over and over. Had we at that time normalised requests from people being tested for data on language spoken and country of birth, we would have a heat map of communal vulnerabilities, and systematic guidance of where the enemy was moving, and where we should have a sense of looming threat. It took ages for this awareness to penetrate the consciousness of our strategists – in November 2020 Victoria began to see the value of this data, In February the Commonwealth began collecting the data. Neither of these jurisdictions release this information as they fear it will be used by the anti-vaxxer movement (a fifth column for the virus) to stigmatise ethnic minorities – a common enough practice without the data, and brought to a high art in the naming and shaming of ethnic neighbourhoods in west and south west Sydney. However New South Wales refuses to do so, despite the widespread affirmation from communities caught on the front line that such information would help them respond immediately and directly to the threats their people are experiencing.

In a recent Lancet article,  Daniel Pan and his colleagues explored the issues associated with the higher incidence of COVID and the poorer outcomes in the UK for Black and Asian ethnic groups. The group is trying to work out whether the social inequality(such as those identified in this article)  affecting non-Whites produces this ethnic effect, or whether there are bio-social factors that predispose non-White races to infection and severity of outcomes. In the UK they are able to ask these questions as the data is there – in Australia the data is not there in NSW, where the ideology of individual “freedom” squeezes out the reality of social impact . Even where some race data is available, as with Indigenous communities in western NSW, it was only after the virus reached the vulnerable groups that a reaction was instituted. However, the Health people could tell very quickly that Aboriginal Australians were being attacked, because they collect the data on Indigeneity, even if they did nothing about checking their low participation in testing and vaccination in the lead up. 

My approaches to Minister Hazzard have been ignored; my contact with the Premier’s office were originally treated with intense interest, and then frozen. My interactions with senior Health officials have generated tirades, suggesting I undervalued all the work their front line people had done talking with “ethnic leaders” and helping the communal pop-up clinics to operate. Yet every one of my ethnic community contacts in those areas of the battlefront are bemused and then dismayed to realise there is a weapon (collecting, processing and using ethnic language data by post code in testing and vaccine booking)  that could have helped them protect their people, and yet it has been dismissed without even a try-out. Moreover when you hear the NSW government ministers claim they have done everything possible that NSW Health has advised, remember where the opposition to testing is strongest- in NSW Health. What war are they fighting? What game do they now need to change?

Two Strongs don’t make it Right

During May 2017 two national inquiries were calling for public submissions to strengthen what an outsider might think sounded like the same policy challenge in a multicultural democracy such as Australia. On the one hand the Senate wanted to understand what action might be required to strengthen multiculturalism, while on the other the Government wanted to strengthen citizenship. The Senate inquiry is continuing and has taken public evidence, including for LyLy Lim  and myself, based on our written submission (Submission 8). The Government one barely stopped to take breath at the closure date, refused to make the submissions to its consultation public, and announced through Minister Dutton soon thereafter increased restrictions and constraints on gaining and retaining citizenship.

However the inquirers each defined “strengthen” in rather different ways, to the point where the word came to represent a totally opposing set of values, world views, and social priorities. In a period of political chaos, post-truth and Trumpet rhetoric, any claim to strength must necessarily suggest assumptions about the causes of the weakness to be supplanted, and the dynamic driving the moral erosion set to be removed.

The Senate inquiry dates from November 2016 when the Greens decided to push for a more robust multicultural policy, in particular one that would bring in national legislation to create a legislative basis for multiculturalism, a proposition last floated by the ALP in 1989 but never enacted or reintroduced by any government since the rise of the Howard opposition. The ALP went along with the Green’s initiative, as the reorganisation of the multiculturalism shadow policy was only starting to take shape. Meanwhile GetUp was moving towards its own firmer strategy on linking with culturally diverse communities, an initiative that would be first tested early in 2017 in the struggle to stop the proposed government changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The Inquiry was launched on the International Day for the elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, in Australia known under its vanilla alias as “Harmony Day”. Any publicity hoped for at the launch was overwhelmed by the Government’s own statement of Multiculturalism, which carefully bypassed all the issues raised in the Senate reference. The senators identified issues such as the adequacy of data on racially motivated crimes, the impact of vilification and discrimination, and the impact of media and political stigmatisation of minority communities on bigotry and harassment. It looked for ways that might improve public discourse and recognise the contribution of immigrant groups. Centrally it wished to consider legislative underpinnings for the currently rootless amalgam of provisions that count as Federal multicultural policy, last put into the public arena for (inconclusive) debate in 1989.

For the Senate then to strengthen multiculturalism appears to entail building a stronger legislative base, improving the information about the impact of xenophobia on minorities, and extending the human rights base for multicultural practice.

The Citizenship inquiry, despite its wattle and gum tree green discussion paper, was framed by consultations initially managed by Sen Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and former Immigration minister and now human rights ambassador Phillip Ruddock. They reported that there was a widespread fear among older multi-generation Australians that potential terrorists and other ne’er-do-wells were finding it too easy to get citizenship, and that not only should the access be toughened, but the loss of citizenship should be more readily used to punish miscreants. The second of those measures, the cancelling of citizenship for terrorists with dual nationality was enacted early on. Raising the bar by lengthening the time people need to prove their commitment to Australia (by volunteering at school tuck shops among other proofs), increasing the level of English required to the equivalent of a year 10 school-leaver, and swearing to uphold a set of values yet to be defined, makes citizenship (and the voting rights that come with it) a much more challenging exercise for humanitarian entrants and both older and less well-educated applicants from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Thus strengthening citizenship is concerned not with bolstering the quality of the process of citizenship achievement for the applicants, but rather in quietening the concerns of the most xenophobic elements in Australian society. That is, the process in place is designed to increase the stigmatisation experienced by minorities, normalise low levels of racist discourse and moral vilification against immigrants, while increasing the sense of marginalisation and exclusion for wide sections of the community. Such concerns about exclusion were once voiced by former Liberal MP Petro Georgiou, who almost alone stood against the Howard government’s last round introduction under then Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews of the first Australian values and ‘strengthened’ English language test. He commented sadly that his parents, proud Greek Australians, would never have made it through the hoops then being applied.

By strengthening citizenship in the way it is proposed, whether intentionally or uncaringly, the sense of exclusion widens, the possibilities of achievement lessen, and the value of the future citizen is adduced from their class rather than their character (think perhaps Asian billionaire vs rescued Yasidi grandmother). Asserting a human rights perspective provides a more reliable basis for strengthening social cohesion than does an approach that merely toughens the rules. For loyalty to Australia will ultimately depend on the recognition and respect paid to its aspiring citizens, not their performance of ritualised elements of culture which is far more complex than Minister Dutton and his black shirts are able to recognise.