Senate debates

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Australian Citizenship Bill 2006; Australian Citizenship (Transitionals and Consequentials) Bill 2006

Second Reading

12:10 pm

Photo of Lyn AllisonLyn Allison (Victoria, Australian Democrats) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Australian Citizenship Bill 2006 and the Australian Citizenship (Transitionals and Consequentials) Bill 2006. The most serious problem with this legislation is that it seems to be delivering what I perceive to be the Prime Minister’s desire—an unrealistic and undesirable desire—for Australia and Australian culture to be homogenous. It is in my view a backward-looking view of the world from behind the picket fence of the 1950s, the time when I grew up, when Australian society was largely conformist, fewer people went to university and many more people went to church.

Even in the 1950s, however, not all Australians shared the same values and not all Australians spoke English. My primary school in Melbourne was full of Greeks and Italians, some of whose parents certainly had no English on arrival and made do with only halting verbal communication in the language of their new country. They still made a huge contribution to this country and in fact their lack of language skills probably made them exploitable in factory work and as builders’ labourers, for instance. Not so, of course, their sons and daughters, many of whom went on to be teachers and doctors and lawyers.

The Prime Minister said:

... it’s very important that we embrace as our common method of communication with each other a single language, and that is the English language ...

There was no mention of Indigenous languages, or of the wealth of languages brought to Australia by newcomers, many of whom speak more than one language. There was no acknowledgement of the fact that Australians are, despite their immigrant make-up, one of the most monolingual countries in the world, unlike countries in Europe, for instance. There was no recognition of the importance of learning other languages, if only to better understand our own.

The Prime Minister said:

... citizenship and interaction with each other is impossible unless we can effectively communicate with one another.

It was not impossible for the Greeks and Italians who came here in the 1950s to communicate amongst themselves or beyond. Often, they used their children as mediums for that communication. Does our Prime Minister communicate ‘effectively’ with the Prime Minister of Japan, for instance? Do we expect delegates to the United Nations to communicate in the one language? No, we do not.

Of course it is desirable to have good English if you come to live in Australia, or any other country where English is most commonly spoken, but many will struggle, particularly those not literate in their own tongue. And shouldn’t we be making it easier to learn, rather than punishing people who haven’t attained the very difficult skill of another language, as most of us who struggled through French and other languages in secondary school would know?

But today I want to focus on the question of values. I know this legislation does not spell out precisely what values new citizens will have to sign up to, nor how citizens will be tested on them, but the Prime Minister has given us enough hints on what they will look like. Part of the problem with the government’s approach is its inherent jingoism. In referring to Australia the Prime Minister says:

It’s a wonderful nation, it’s the greatest on the earth, we think we’re pretty good and we are.

The greatest on earth? Measured against what, I would ask? Greenhouse emissions? Protection of human rights? Treatment of our Indigenous citizens and refugees? Protection of our natural environment and its endangered species? I don’t think so. This is undoubtedly a good place to live and we are, by and large, more privileged than most of the rest of the world—but are we truly the greatest on earth?

The Prime Minister says immigration should lead to citizenship. The path is that you come to this country, embrace its customs, values, and language, and become a citizen:

…the dominant consideration must be the integration of people into the Australian family. That’s always been my belief.

The Prime Minister dislikes what he calls ‘zealous multiculturalism’, claiming it is divisive and confusing. Thirty questions put to prospective citizens will cover history, our system of government, sporting traditions and mateship—an Australian concept, he says, of everyone pulling together. I do not subscribe to mateship. To me, as a woman, mateship means something quite different from what it means to many men. I know a lot of women who actually feel quite threatened by that prospect. If they had too many questions about sporting achievements or traditions in this country in a test of 30 questions, I would fail on those questions as well. I have very little interest in spectator sports. I like playing sport myself, but I could not tell you who captained the last test and I have no intention of swatting up on that subject.

On the question of mateship, how can you test someone’s ability to pull together? It is a ludicrous suggestion that you would be able to. Are we really all pulling together in any case, and what does that mean? Are we pulling together on climate change? Not if the Prime Minister has anything to do with it. More people than ever are pulling together to bring David Hicks back to Australia and to protect our age-old values of a fair trial and no detention without charge—values the Prime Minister himself seems to have ditched. Mr Howard has singled out Muslim migrants for refusing to embrace Australian values. He says integration:

… means understanding that in certain areas, such as the equality of men and women … people who come from societies where women are treated in an inferior fashion have got to learn very quickly that that is not the case in Australia.’ That is interesting coming from a Prime Minister who has just reduced the already very small number of women in cabinet.

The Prime Minister’s own Islamic advisers have accused Mr Howard and his senior ministers of fuelling hatred and mistrust by using ‘inflammatory and derogatory’ language. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines freedom as ‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion’, but the Prime Minister says that our values have their roots in Christianity. This is no doubt partly true, but there are plenty of references in the Bible, as there are in the Koran, to the inferiority of women. Various church organisations practise discrimination against women—the ordination of women continues to be resisted by the Anglicans and the Catholic churches.

Religions are not always charitable or beneficial to human welfare. Too many wars have been motivated by religious difference. Religions have held back development in science and technology and, therefore, economic prosperity. It is still the case in many Islamic countries, and here in Australia the objection to stem cell research last year stemmed from Christian religious positions.

There is fortunately not much in the Bible about mateship, and our rule of law probably owes more to the Ancient Greeks than to anything the Old Testament or New Testament might tell us, so I would argue that any set of values is going to have to look beyond religions established centuries ago that rely on beliefs in devils, spirits, angels and gods. Instead, I would argue that values in the 21st century should derive from humanism and morality—for instance, human rights, democracy, liberty, social responsibility and scientific method.

I oppose the values test for a range of reasons. It seems to me to be unworkable and ridiculous to imagine that there could ever be universal agreement on what these values should be. However, I do think it is good to have a debate about values and to identify those that we as a country would like to promote and, in particular, that we would like our governments to adhere to. Values can come from a sort of commonsense guide to behaviour—such as treating others as you would like to be treated, keeping your promises, being fair and doing your best. There are also good values like happiness, honesty, justice, charity, courage, integrity, community, love, knowledge and freedom, but I would point out that none of these is necessarily reliant on religions or the commands of a god. I think that, rather than an arbitrary set of values that the Prime Minister can relate to, we should be working towards a comprehensive set of basic principles that we could reach agreement on as having general moral value. These values could be based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I seek leave to incorporate a draft universal statement of moral obligations that was put together by Dr John Perkins, who is a Melbourne economist, mathematical modeller, software developer and writer.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows—

Universal Statement of Moral Obligations

(The style of this draft is based on that of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - see notes)


Whereas the welfare of the people of the world is dependent on the most desirable moral behaviour of all individuals and organizations

Whereas disagreement between peoples may arise due to different views on the nature of forms of behaviour that are considered to be morally desirable

Whereas it is desirable that the peoples of the world should have a common basis for the determination and identification of behaviours that are considered morally desirable

Whereas there are certain principles that may universally be presumed, in general, to describe behaviour that may be regarded as morally desirable

Whereas such principles may be regarded as universal because every individual may be universally presumed to desire to be treated in accordance with such principles

Whereas a set of such principles may be described as follows:


Do not harm yourself or other people


Help yourself and other people


Allow rational individuals to make free and informed choices


Treat people fairly: treat equals equally, unequals unequally


Maximize the ratio of benefits to harms for all people


Keep your promises and agreements


Do not lie, defraud, deceive or mislead


Respect personal privacy and confidentiality

Whereas a knowledge of these principles and the method of their application is desirable in avoiding behaviour in contravention of these principles

Whereas a process of moral reasoning should be employed as a guide to behaviour that best implements a balance of these principles

Whereas in this process all the available relevant information should be sought and utilized

Whereas a common observance of these principles is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge

It is therefore here stated

This Universal Statement of Moral Obligations as a common guide to behaviour for all peoples in all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Statement constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these Obligations, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.

Article 1

All human beings are obliged with the responsibility to act in accordance with a balanced consideration of all moral principles, seeking to fulfil each of the principles to the maximum degree warranted by  circumstances, in a spirit of brotherhood

Article 2

Everyone is obliged to act reasonably in accordance with the moral obligations set forth in this Statement without exception of any kind with respect to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Article 3

The administration of justice requires an obligation to obey the law. Laws should not violate any reasoned and balanced interpretation of moral obligations formulated in accordance with this Statement. If any law is reasonably considered to pose such a violation, it is the duty of everyone to seek to change that law in accordance with the lawful means provided. Only in exceptional circumstances, determined by clear and unequivocal imperatives implied by conformity with these obligations, should any law be disobeyed.

Article 4

The moral obligations and practices implied by belief in any particular religion should not be considered to precede, override or surpass a balanced interpretation of the eight moral principles set forth in this Statement.

Article 5

Where contradictions occur in the simultaneous fulfilment of different moral principles, such that one of more the principles is violated, it must be reasonably demonstrated that exceptional circumstances prevail, necessitating the violation of that principle or principles in favour of other principles.

Article 6

All relevant information necessary for the conduct of moral decision making in accordance with this Statement should be provided and not unnecessarily withheld from those who would benefit from such information.

Article 7

It is an obligation of those in positions of power and authority over others not to exploit their power and authority for personal gain, nor use it in favour of any particular religion, in violation of the intentions of this Statement.

Article 8

Parents have an obligation to their children to educate their children the principles or moral behaviour and reasoning set out in this Statement and to provide by their own conformity with these principles an example that their children may follow.

Article 9

The obligations of beneficence,  non-malificence and justice set forth in this Statement, imply a duty to our children and to future generations, to respect nature and the environment.

Article 10

An individual’s autonomy regarding choice of attire should be exercised with regard to the situation in which the attire is to be worn and in accordance with the principles set forth in this Statement.

Article 11

Acts of a sexual nature should be conducted in private between consenting adults in accordance with the principles and articles set forth in this Statement.

Article 12

It is an obligation of all people and authorities to respect and honour the individual human rights as set out in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In relation to the freedom of thought, conscience and religion therein declared, the universal moral principles here declared, in particular those relating to autonomy, justice and honesty, evaluated in the light of all scientifically verifiable information, shall prevail over any right implied by the freedom of religion.

Explanatory notes:

The preamble and proclamation are derived in similarity to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Articles 1 and 2 are based on UDHR 1 and 2. Article 3 is intended to correspond with legal considerations specified in UDHR 6-11. Article 4 implies priority over religiously derived morality. Articles 5 and 6 relate to method of implementation of the eight moral principles. Article 7 is directed against corruption and the interference of religion in politics. Article 8 is directed against religious indoctrination. Article 9 expands the notion of “people” referred to in the preamble to include future people. Article 10 is meant to suggest that the principles of autonomy and privacy, for example, and respect for the utility of others, should be exercised when deciding to wear, for example, a bikini or a burka in a bank. Article 11 is intended to suggest that sex should be conducted with regard to fidelity, honesty and privacy, and should be limited to adults. Article 12 links obligations to rights of the UDHR and clarifies the contradiction in UDHR 18.

This is a draft paper prepared by John L Perkins

Updated January 2004. Please direct comments to the author.

Thank you. This universal statement of moral obligations sets down eight principles, a common guide for the behaviour of all people in every nation, which I urge the Prime Minister to consider. I will not go through the whole statement but I will refer to these eight principles:

Non-maleficence—Do not harm yourself or other people.

Beneficence—Help yourself and other people.

Autonomy—Allow rational individuals to make free and informed choices.

Justice—Treat people fairly: treat equals equally, unequals unequally.

Utility—Maximize the ratio of benefits to harms for all people.

Fidelity—Keep your promises and agreements

Honesty—Do not lie, defraud, deceive or mislead.

Privacy—Respect personal privacy and confidentiality.

So, instead of proceeding down the path of an arbitrary set of values that does not have universal application and is not agreed to by all Australians, I urge the Prime Minister to rethink this. I certainly would not agree with values such as those expressed so far, and I put it to the Senate and the government that this is an impossible task in any case. I urge the Prime Minister not to set values as a test of citizenship but to open up a broader debate about a statement of moral obligations such as I have referred to. We hear a lot about obligations from this government and I think that is not a bad thing. I agree that citizens should behave with respect for one another and that there are obligations in living in this wonderful society of ours. We may not agree on what those obligations are; however, I think this is a very good start in establishing a dialogue and a debate about what values Australia truly subscribes to.


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