Sue Backshall

Great southern blend: Let our new citizens shape us, not we them

With the conditions on new citizens tougher, it begs us to ask not only who we are, but what we expect.

 

 

In this culture of ‘otherdom’, again we’re discussing the conditions of citizenship. At the front of this thinking, is Malcolm Turnbull.

John Howard originally brought in the citizenship test, but he did it when his political stocks were falling. I would be prepared to bet, if the bet could ever be honestly attested to, that Malcolm Turnbull is playing the race card as his stocks are falling too.

He keeps bringing Howard, the prime minister who specialised in race politics, into the conversation and suggesting that all he doing is tightening the citizenship requirements Howard brought in.

As a migrant who went through the process of citizenship application, I have a fair idea of what is required to apply, or more accurately, what was required to apply.

I filled in a form with some personal details and I was required to submit myself to an interview with a public servant.

I talked about my family, including my Australian-born wife and five children, and my teaching career – by then I was a principal.

The interviewer asked some random questions about Australian history which I answered. He soon realised that I was going to cope with any further questions as well, so he stopped asking and booked me into the next available citizenship ceremony.

I went along, swore the oath of allegiance and took my Australian native plant and went home. My commitment to Australia as my country of citizenship, the country I call home, the country where I belong, was a completed process.

I need to ask: why the change in citizenship application and granting? And what are the Australian values we want new citizens to vow to follow? I just saw a grab of a television chat where the point was made that the values we hold dear in Australia are pretty common and uniform around the world.

And perhaps it’s better to focus on what we don’t want to see as values for all Australians, especially new Australians, as they are the ones we are asking to jump through hoops to prove their worthiness.

I believe that Australian values have changed such that we are no longer welcoming and generous, and we are no longer tolerant of others who may be different from ourselves. (Not that it should be enough to be tolerant! We need to respect.)

Are we as a nation proud of this? Is this the Australia we want to promote and the perspective we want other countries to have of us? That we are a selfish, close-minded nation?

The interviewer asked some random questions about Australian history which I answered. He soon realised that I was going to cope with any further questions as well, so he stopped asking and booked me into the next available citizenship ceremony.

How can we claim to have many of the Christian values promoted by Christian religions when we are the antithesis of the basic Christian teaching to put others before ourselves?

And the application process. Who decided that people seeking citizenship will tick boxes they know will jeopardise their chances of being granted their request? They’re not stupid, and certainly not as stupid as some may think.

I find the expectation and one of the qualifying criterion for citizenship, a level of community involvement, like being a member of a local community group or the school PFA, curious.

I clearly remember the challenges my parents faced when we first arrived in Australia, at the Australian Government’s invitation.

My parents were so focused on providing the food and shelter basics our family needed in a country so vastly different from the one we left, while missing their home country full of their friends and relatives.

The grieving process went on for years and years and I’m not sure if Mum and Dad ever got over it completely. They had schools to organise, a job to look for, a house to maintain.

My mum rarely left our house so, with little exposure to spoken English, she took a long time to become competent in English. What an embarrassment for her when one of her kids had to accompany her to a doctor for translations when she was ill.

And there could have been an expectation that Mum and Dad joined a community-based group. It wouldn’t have ever entered their mind. They were too busy establishing and supporting a family so we didn’t have to rely on welfare.

There is no way that my parents would be able to even apply for citizenship in the current process requirements.

Dad was illiterate and Mum would not understand half of the words in the computer-based test. And what of the contribution Mum and Dad made by their own efforts and by the supportive efforts they made for their children?

And look at their children! Successful business people paying their fair share of taxes, providing employment opportunities, making valuable contributions in engineering, food production, education, the building industry, making an immeasurable impact on Australian society.

And Mum and Dad not worthy of citizenship because of the intent and design of the flawed process. Surely Australia, we can do and be better than that.

 

 

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