Posted on July 22, 2005

One Nation, One Culture

John Stone, The Australian (Sydney), July 22

SINCE the London bombings several columnists — from Tariq Ali in The Guardian to Phillip Adams in The Australian — have argued that the British brought them on themselves because of Britain’s intervention in Iraq. Well, they’re half right. The British (more precisely, their ineffectual governments) did bring those bombings on themselves.

The Blair Government’s intervention in Iraq is not to blame. Rather, successive British governments have persisted in the multiculturalist folly that a nation can be built on separate but equal cultures. Moreover, under Tony Blair in particular, Britain’s immigration policies and border controls against illegal immigrants have become international jokes, and now a national tragedy.

And the lessons?

Debate has begun over a possible Australian identity card. While necessary, that misses the larger issue: can we any longer pretend that our official multiculturalism policies, introduced by Gough Whitlam and assiduously pursued by all his successors, are in our national interest? More pointedly, how are we to handle our growing, self-created Muslim problem?

On both points, incidentally, it has been fascinating to read recent articles in The Age and The Sunday Age in Melbourne (Australia’s equivalents of The Guardian in Britain). In the past week, impeccably credentialled spokespeople for the Left such as Pamela Bone and, even more remarkably, Terry Lane have questioned the whole basis of our official multiculturalism policies.

On the identity card, as one principally involved in defeating Labor’s 1987 Australia Card, I fully understand the opposing civil liberties arguments. But circumstances alter cases. National security has since become enormously more important. Also, technology has so developed that most of us now possess several forms of personal identification: photo-bearing driver’s licenses, tax file numbers, Medicare cards and so on.

I do not argue that national identity cards would help much in foiling London-style attacks. They would help appreciably in subsequently apprehending the culprits when (not if) Australia suffers similarly.

As to that larger issue, consider these thoughtful words of the late former High Court chief justice Harry Gibbs in his 2002 Australia Day message to Samuel Griffith Society members: “While it would be grossly offensive to modern standards for a state to discriminate against any of its own citizens on the grounds of race, a state is entitled to prevent the immigration of persons whose culture is such that they are unlikely readily to integrate into society, or at least to ensure that persons of that kind do not enter the country in such numbers that they will be likely to form a distinct and alien section of society, with the resulting problems that we have seen in the United Kingdom.”

Here, then, are six specific proposals for addressing that larger issue.

First, official multiculturalism policies must be abandoned outright. That does not mean we should cease receiving immigrants (albeit more selectively). It does mean all official multiculturalism’s appurtenances (for example: SBS, government grants to ethnically based councils) must be abolished.

Second, we must sharply reduce, indeed virtually halt, Muslim immigrant inflow.

Third, the precious gift of Australian citizenship must be harder to obtain. The permanent residence requirement for citizenship is a derisory two years. If we value citizenship so lightly, how can we expect newcomers to do otherwise?

Fourth, citizenship should be conditional on reasonable fluency, appropriately tested, in English. If ethnic ghettos are to be avoided, newcomers must learn our language.

Fifth, citizenship applicants should also have to pass a reasonable written test of citizenship’s meaning: parliamentary democracy, respect for others’ rights, the rule of law and a general understanding of the Australian values to which they swear commitment.

Sixth, emphasis on English in our immigration policy should be enhanced. Today, English-language proficiency earns points towards an applicant’s overall score. It should be made an absolute requirement (including, in other than exceptional cases, for our humanitarian intake).

All this has nothing to do with race, but everything to do with culture, and particularly with people whose culture is such that they are unlikely readily to integrate into society. For the world’s problem today, whence the London bombings derive, is that Islam has become a failed culture.

That was not always so. But for 500 years now Islam has turned in on itself and lost its way, while the post-Reformation West has forged ahead. It is that sense of greatness lost, of declining significance more generally, that loss of pride, that has evoked the bloody frustrations we now confront.

The roughly 330,000 Muslims in Australia today include, of course, many or even most who are thoroughly law-abiding. The problem — which those also seemingly law-abiding young men in London have revealed to the world in all its stark reality — is not only that we don’t any longer know that they are, but also that we can’t any longer be sure they’re going to stay that way.

Our resident Muslims comprise four categories: Australian born; non-native-born Australian citizens; non-native-born yet to acquire citizenship; and some here illegally. Put aside the first two categories. As to the third, we should not only make Australian citizenship harder to acquire (for everyone, not just for Muslims), but we should also, for the time being, stop adding to their numbers.

Ultimately, only Islam can reform itself. But in the present struggle within Islam, moderates have been steadily losing to (largely Saudi Arabian financed) fundamentalists. We would be insanely complacent to assume that even those moderate Muslims now among us (and already there are those who are not) will not, over time, produce from their ranks the equivalents of the London bombers (previously, apparently, moderates to a man). Meanwhile, we must accept that we are at war and start behaving accordingly before, as in London, it’s too late.

John Stone is a former treasury secretary and National Party senator.