The Turnbull government’s overhaul of citizenship laws has sparked a nationwide debate about the meaning of ‘Australian values’.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the government was “strengthening our multicultural society and strengthening our commitment to Australian values” with the changes, which will mean new citizens must now pass a standalone English test.
“This will be good for the applicants, good for the nation, underlining our Australian values at the very heart of Australian citizenship,” he said.
During a press conference on Thursday, Mr Turnbull referred to ‘Australian values’ more than a dozen times, but asked to define them, he appeared to stumble.
He first referred to a discussion paper from the Immigration Department, before adding that “Australians have an enormous reservoir of good sense”.
Later, he said “mutual respect, equality of men and women, democracy, freedom, rule of law” were “fundamental Australian values”.
Thursday’s press conference, held with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, sparked wider debate about the meaning of ‘Australian values’.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was more forthright about the concept, which he said included choosing whether to practise religion and celebrating gender equality.
“You basically leave people alone if they’re not annoying you, don’t annoy them. We are robust. If someone wants to stride around in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt you let them,” Mr Joyce said.
“We roll with the punches. We believe that if one person wants to have a beer, they can. If another person decides they don’t want to, that’s completely and utterly their choice.”
Labor’s Ed Husic, Australia’s first Muslim MP, pointed to the “fair go” argument when asked to define his Australian values.
“Australian values – in terms of obviously having been raised and born here – particularly the biggest one for me is the fair go,” he said.
Greens senator Nick McKim was less supportive of the focus on “Australian values”, slamming the government with a satirical version of the new citizenship test.
Australian values, according to the government
In addition to the English test, the changed rules will require new citizens to demonstrate a commitment to and understanding of ‘Australian values’, and have been a permanent resident for four years, rather than 12 months.
The government has released a discussion paper and says it will consult the community for one month on the citizenship changes.
The paper says that applicants will be assessed for their views on ‘democratic beliefs’, ‘equality’ and ‘integration’, including support for concepts such as the rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and gender equality.
The commitment to ‘integration’ will examine things such as education of children, employment, paying tax and attitudes to welfare, criminality and national security.
It will also “strengthen” the Australian values statement that is included in citizenship documentation and includes three pillars: equality, freedom and respect.
Prominent and ordinary Australians were quick to seize on the Prime Minister’s focus on national values – with hilarious, brutally honest and very polarised results.
Australian values Ive seen:
1)urging others to skol beers
2)wearing thongs in any weather
3)hating on Sydney house prices
4)hating on Kochie
— Uma Patel (@umabp) April 19, 2017
Q4. How many seconds can you be in the sun before getting cancer?
Q5. Nick Kyrgios: yeah or nah?
Q6. Is that a knife?
— Adam Liaw (@adamliaw) April 20, 2017
Systematically destroy 200+ indigenous languages, then insist newcomers speak yours (which you're barely literate in).#AustralianValues
— Craig Andrew Batty (@ResignInShame) April 19, 2017
Australian basketball legend Andrew Gaze, the country’s flag bearer at the Sydney Olympics, had no trouble defining ‘Australian values’ when asked by The New Daily.
“Historically we’ve been a country of giving people the fair go. We all have opportunities to reach our potential,” Mr Gaze said.
“The way in which we care and look after each other are what resonate with me. The most significant is of fairness and making sure that opportunities are there for those that have the capacity and will to achieve.”
In a dig at politicians, lawyer Josh Bornstein joked that Australian values meant “staying in your negatively geared Canberra flat and claiming travel allowance”.
Those playful takes drew a furious response from Nationals MP George Christensen, who tweeted: “If you hate your country so much [you] mock its values on social media, you should think long and hard about your own citizenship”.