JOHN MENADUE. Australia Day – a progress report.

The Australia of today is vastly different to the Australia of my childhood with its widespread racism and sectarianism. It was socially suffocating. For those changes I am very grateful. There is a lot that we can be proud of.  No country has integrated newcomers as well as we have. But there have been failures and remedial action yet to be taken. We are yet to be reconciled to our indigenous brothers and sisters who watched the European boat arrivals in 1788. We are yet to take our share of responsibility for the displaced and persecuted people of the world.  

I wonder what Indigenous people thought when they saw Captain Phillip with his ships come uninvited and sail up Sydney Harbour in January 1788. There does not seem any doubt that despite their concerns they were less hostile than we are to boat people 230 years later.

Succeeding generations came by boat in their millions, including my ancestors who came from agriculturally and mining depressed Cornwall on SS Northumberland to desolate Port Willunga in SA in 1847.

Migration has never stopped. It has dramatically changed Australia, mainly for the better.  I don’t think any country has done it as well. It has brought vibrancy and greater openness.  If I could be more precise, I think Australia has benefited most from refugees.  Whilst the first generation of refugees may often lack skills and education, they more than make up for it in enterprise, courage and risk-taking.  That enterprise and high aspirations are often expressed through their children who  outperform others in education.  Refugees are by definition risk-takers who will abandon all for a new life.  They select themselves much better than a migration officer can ever select them.

We have seen the benefits of migration, refugees and multiculturalism, but seem hesitant about new people.  But this hesitancy, and sometimes hostility to newcomers, in time gives way to acceptance and pride in our common achievements.  This has been our experience with waves of newcomers.  Irish Catholics were initially depicted as different and perhaps disloyal.  We were prejudiced against Jewish newcomers.  German migrants, particularly in the Barossa Valley, were harassed for decades. We were sceptical of Balts, reffos and dagos. We were initially wary about the Indo-Chinese and what damage they might cause to the Australian way of life.  And now we have Peter Dutton’s scurrilous fear-mongering about African youth gangs with an echoing ‘me too’ from Malcolm Turnbull. But over time, it changed.  Even the early Afghans who built the transport links in Central Australia now have a train, the Ghan, named in their honour.

Whilst Australians are invariably hesitant about newcomers, what gives me confidence is our pragmatic acceptance.  That seeming contradictory response is shown consistently in opinion polling and over long periods.  We are favourably impressed with the personal experience we have of the neighbour or shopkeeper who is Italian, Chinese or Vietnamese.  Is there something in the casualness and our easy-going acceptance that overcomes ideological and philosophical opposition?  We eschew the extremes and don’t get too excited by ideologies at either end of the spectrum.  If 11 November 1975 couldn’t even provoke a general strike, what could?  Insurrection is rare.  There isn’t much blood on the wattle.  We bump into each other, but we don’t cause a great deal of hurt.

One important reason for our successful integration of newcomers has been our settlement programs, particularly English language training. Unfortunately the Abbott Government took these settlement services out of the Department of Immigration, which is now focussed, with the urging of Peter Dutton, on border protection rather than settlement and nation-building.

As the host, Australia has particular responsibility to provide opportunities for newcomers. But it is not a one-way street. The leadership of the new communities also carries responsibilities. Most have provided that leadership. Some have obviously failed both their own communities but also the wider Australian community. There is a lesson to be learned here.

I believe that we do not place sufficient emphasis on citizenship, not in the jingoistic way of the United States but as a symbol of our unity. There must be strong commitment to Australia and newcomers must place that ahead of loyalties to former homelands. Australian residents or citizens who go to fight in wars in their former homelands must be dealt with very firmly.

We welcome diversity but not for its own sake. Diversity must be of benefit to the common good. For example, we fought too long and hard for the separation of church and state to be prepared to give way to sharia law. We have built a superstructure of enriching diversity. But that diversity has been built on a strong substructure of shared institutions and values…our constitution, the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech and religion, English as the national language and tolerance and equal opportunity.

In addition to time healing differences, we have also had leaders who have inspired the best in each of us or ‘touched the better angels of our nature’ (Abraham Lincoln).  Ben Chifley overcame public opposition in allowing Jewish refugees after World War II.  Robert Menzies, on coming to office, continued the acceptance of the displaced people of Europe.  Harold Holt skilfully, but in defiance of public opinion, commenced the dismantling of White Australia.  John Gorton and Gough Whitlam continued the process.  When Malcolm Fraser responded to the anguish of the Indo-Chinese people, he knew that he was acting contrary to public opinion.  Bill Hayden and then Bob Hawke supported him.  Yet no-one today would argue that these leaders got it wrong.  We applaud their courage and leadership. John Howard, Tony Abbott and now Malcolm Turnbull were the first post-war leaders to break from that bipartisan tradition and engender fear of newcomers.

Border protection is clearly necessary to maintain public confidence in migration and refugee intakes.  But it is possible to do that, as Malcolm Fraser showed, without dividing the country and punishing the most vulnerable people on earth.

What gives me confidence is the Australian people.  I know of a Jewish refugee man who went to school in inner Melbourne after World War II.  He told me his story.  His sister and he were called before the headmaster to discuss their progress.. As they were leaving his office, the headmaster asked them whose photo it was on the wall.  They didn’t know, but surmised that it might be head of the police or the head of the military which they had expected given the political background of the country from which they had fled.  The headmaster told them who it was, but the name meant nothing to them.  They then asked their schoolmates and were told it was Don Bradman.  That Jewish man said to me recently ‘I knew then that we were safe’.  If the most important public figure for the headmaster was a famous sportsman, there was little to fear and a lot to be looked forward to in Australia.

Our nation will always be dynamic. It will be work in progress. The Australia of today is vastly different and better than the Australia of my childhood with its widespread racism and sectarianism. It was socially suffocating. For those changes I am very grateful. There is a lot that we can be proud of.  No country has integrated newcomers as well as we have. But there have been failures and remedial action yet to be taken. We are yet to be reconciled to our Indigenous brothers and sisters who watched the European boat arrivals in 1788. We are yet to take our share of responsibility for the displaced and persecuted people of the world.

Fear holds us back from expressing the generosity we all possess.

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8 Responses to JOHN MENADUE. Australia Day – a progress report.

  1. Wayne McMillan says:

    Thanks John you have summed it up beautifully!

  2. John Battye says:

    Dear John,

    Right through to the end of the Menzies era, Australia had several “Australia Days” – ALL of them important to Federation Australia:

    1 January – Federation Day 1901 – when the Commonwealth of Australia as Came into Being as a British Country.

    26 January – First Fleet Day 1788 – why the Commonwealth of Australia came into Being as a British Country.

    Easter Day (moveable) – the Celebration of Australia’s character as a Judaeo-Christian Country without, of course and quite properly not specifying which Christian denomination was the “Official State Denomination”.

    25 April – Anzac Day – the day on which both Australia and New Zealand together came of age as a country in the crucible of conflict.

    24 May – Empire Day – the Day celebrating our shared heritage of all true Australians as a British Country in a British Empire.

    Queen’s Birthday – the Day honouring our shared Monarch.

    Foundation Days – varied in the several States – celebrating the advent of Colonial self-government and substantial independence from the Parliament in Westminster-on-Thames.

    Christmas Day – again celebrating out shared heritage as a Judaeo-Christian Country.

    The “war” against every one of these is High Treason against Federation Australia, and must be treated as such. The attempted imposition of guilt upon White-Anglo Australia for its supposed “genocide” against the nation’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is likewise High Treason, and equally must be treated as such.

    The propagation of the theory of Racial Diversity and Multiculturalism by the Whitlam-Grassby duo was likewise High Treason against Federation Australia, and likewise must be treated as such. The ethnic “mix” at the end of WW2 was about right as far as Federation Australia was concerned, and was not to be tampered with or subverted.

    Your: “We are yet to take our share of responsibility for the displaced and persecuted people of the world.” clearly outlines a programmatic destruction of that 1945 ethnic “mix” and reducing Federation Australia to a minority in their own country that they alone had cobbled together between 1891 to 1900 – with that immigration program effectively creating a “counterfeit Australia” to that envisioned by Federation Australia. And you plaintively wonder why there is declining support for Australia’s current immigration and refugee policies.

    As for Your “We are yet to be reconciled to our indigenous brothers and sisters . . .” Our best intentions at the 1967 referendum have been systematically trashed and betrayed by the Whitlam-Morrison agenda. In 1967, we merely wanted them to be counted – and NO more. We then watched with increasing dismay the land-rights campaign unfold, with at least $10bn (could easily be $20bn) of essentially Federation-Australia’s money from all levels of government being stolen from Federation Australia by way of taxation, and then being thrown at them up to the end of 2017- as “sit down” money with no return from that massive investment. We saw massive “Aboriginal” interference on our Farms, subverting their viability and damaging the economic prospects of Federation Australia’s farmers.

    With Luke Foley’s promise in NSW in 2018 to transfer even more to them – effectively as “sit down” money – this will have the makings of destroying forever the capacity of any budget (when that idea spreads nationwide) to be balanced. And will result in widespread reductions in welfare available to Federation Australians. And then we have the total nonsense of a “Treaty” like unto Waitangi. And you plaintively wonder why there is declining support for Australia’s current Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Many of their leaders are already expressing concern over this “invasion day” treason, and of the backlash it is already creating against them. And if this treason persists, that backlash will increase exponentially. It may easily double in the space of 12 months.

    I put it to you brutally – if the 1967 referendum was put now in 2018 in the form it was presented in 1967 – given what we now know and have devastatingly experienced since 1967, it would fail overall in every original state. And fail in all but the most left-wing of electorates. And if the Greens stupidly supported it, that would be their political death warrant.

    I trust that this clarifies the issues that you have presented – without any trace of “black-armband” political correctness attached to it.

  3. Andreas says:

    Sage words, John Menadue.
    Will the fear mongers and dog whistlers of countless Australians’ daily experience even listen, let alone take heed? Probably not so much, one might think.
    So where to from here, before the inter-racial climate is being poisoned even further?
    The immigration enablers of the past, as you have quoted, are still revered today by some, however the present day reality shows a brutal departure from that inherent decency.
    Is the abyss really our destiny as a country?

  4. [I was interrupted. Not sure if I pressed ‘Post Comment’, sorry]
    –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
    Dear John,

    You write:
    1. “One important reason for our successful integration of newcomers has been our settlement programs, particularly English language training. ”
    2. “We are yet to take our share of responsibility for the displaced and persecuted people of the world.”

    1. About 50 years ago, I asked a senior immigration bureaucrat if he had ever visited Israel. The question baffled him. I told him that Israel had given sanctuary to Jews from well over one hundred countries, none of whom spoke Hebrew.
    Everyone, regardless of age, was housed, free of charge, in an ‘ulpan’ for three months or so, until they could emerge with sufficient Hebrew to find a home, go to schools, get a job, go shopping etc.
    By comparison, the Australian government’s approach was abysmal.
    We still have, in all likelihood, hundreds of thousands of elderly immigrants who have little or no English, living in their own communities and conducting all social intercourse in their own language.
    This is so much the case that a senior academic at Sydney University has told me that Australia is not an Anglophone country! I had to point out that all street signs, public notices, social security and taxation forms etc, were in English.
    It is a disgrace that we still need interpreters at hospitals, on government websites etc. They should never have been necessary. ALL our immigrants, of all ages, should have been to an ‘ulpan’ and been properly equipped for life in an Anglophone country.

    2. People all over the world have been displaced and persecuted for millennia. How far back is this breast-beating to go? The history of the world is of displacements and persecutions.
    Do the descendants of the Goths and the Visigoths have a debt to today’s Italians? Archaeology in the Middle East is revealing evidence of pre-historical displacements, some in Biblical times.
    Applying today’s political correctness, based on extraordinarily modern ‘liberal’ philosophy, is quite misplaced. Even our philosophical ‘mentors’ in Athens had slaves.
    It is time to stop denying and decrying the facts of history, like those students wishing to demolish statues of slave-owning US presidents and of Cecil Rhodes in Southern Africa.
    Yes, our white European (British) predecessors treated many Aboriginal people with disdain and contempt, and some even with genocidal intent. That was then, when mores were not what they are today. Applying today’s ‘liberal’ values retrospectively, to condemn the founders of modern Australia is to indulge in false humanism.
    O tempora, o mores!

  5. Bob Mills says:

    Thank you, John. Generosity and compassion and true optimism are so often absent from the serial introspection we tend to substitute for political discourse. A pleasure to read and a little gem to come back to.

  6. Ann Tulloh says:

    the shame you feel in the Shoah ?museum ?centre in Jérusalem where you read in big writing that Menzies refused European Jews as Oz didn’t have a problem with Jews and didn’t want one.
    I don’t know if it’s still the case but it used to be a that for after a foreigner had taken French nationality he couldn’t be asked to fight against his mother land for 15 years. I’ve got double nationality and know that you can’t eradicate your origins.

  7. David Maxwell Gray says:

    The words – We are yet to be reconciled to our indigenous brothers and sisters who watched the European boat arrivals in 1788 – should resound with all Australians on January 26.

    The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan has called on state and federal governments to speed up negotiation of treaties that recognise Indigenous sovereignty.

    In a video message released to coincide with the 26 January, Mr McMillan urged all Australian governments “to give First Peoples a voice into the political processes which affect their lives.” His address can be found on https://crosslight.org.au/2018/01/24/presidents-survival-day-message-2/

  8. Ramesh Thakur says:

    Thanks John. Beautifully put.
    Ramesh

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