CANBERRA OBSERVED: Debate simmers over Australian values
News Weekly, September 30, 2006
Though politicians would strenuously deny it, the recent debate about "Australian values" which has erupted over recent weeks is really a proxy debate on how to deal with Australia's growing Muslim population.
Both parties have been stepping on each other's toes to be seen as the leading political party with the clearest views on espousing what are "Australian values".
Kim Beazley announced that he wants everyone coming to Australia to sign a pledge recognising and accepting a set of yet-to-be-enunciated values.
The pledge would have to be signed by everyone, including businessmen and tourists, according to Labor.
Mr Beazley's policy has received widespread criticism, including that from individuals inside the Labor Party, on the grounds that it would be unworkable and could alienate some ethnic groups.
But the Howard Government has been working overtime on the "values" debate too.
It is proposing to toughen up citizenship laws, making it harder to gain the privileges of being an Australian citizen.
Proposals include sitting a test to understand Australia's institutions, history, symbols and values; some competency in English; and a four-year wait to apply for citizenship.
Prime Minister John Howard has been at special pains to argue that new citizenship rules are not directed at Muslims.
"We have no argument with faithful Muslims who practise their religion as part of our way of life, that people should have the right of their own religion or no religion at all, and should be allowed, in an unmolested fashion, to practise it," he said.
"But we require everybody to be part of the mainstream of the community."
Mr Howard says the debate is about immigrants' loyalty being to Australia first.
Behind the party jostling, though, is a serious but bubbling issue partly connected with the war on terror, but also with the clash of Western and Islamic cultures.
Former Treasury Secretary and Senator, John Stone, recently wrote that Islam holds beliefs which create inevitable conflicts with the West.
"Islam holds that church and state are inseparable; that women, while respected so long as they stick to their appointed place in the Islamic scheme of things, are less than equal to men generally; and that even the most extreme violence is justifiable when applied in pursuit of approved Islamic ends," he wrote.
"Until all that changes - and it can only be changed from within Islam itself, if indeed it can be changed at all - Islamic culture will never reside in harmony with others."
The long-term desire of Islamists to convert the West and their new countries of choice to their way of life and religion poses uncomfortable questions which most politicians are reluctant to engage in.
In Europe, where the overall birth-rate has dried up, the Islamic population from both natural births and immigration, is growing rapidly, creating serious policy dilemmas for governments.
France now has a 10 per cent Muslim population, or 6 million of its citizens. Sweden and Denmark are 3 per cent Muslim, Germany 3.7 per cent, while the Netherlands is 5.4 per cent.
Internally, the Muslim populations of some cities are much greater becaue, of a deliberate strategy of taking over areas of a country.
Australia has a much smaller Muslim population, but it too is growing rapidly.
From the end of World War II until 1971, Muslim population growth was very slow, comprising mainly of Turkish patriots who held British passports.
In 1947, the population was 2,700, and by 1971 it was just 22,311 and Muslim immigrants came from Bosnia, Albania, Bulgaria and Russia.
However, the total abolition of government controls over migrants in 1972, and the associated adoption of multiculturalism as government policy, saw an explosion in Muslim migration.
Fuelled by the war in Lebanon, there is now a huge Lebanese Muslim population, particularly in Sydney.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in less than 30 years the Muslim population has grown to 281,500 (the 2001 Census figure) with about half being Australian-born.
Muslim immigrants are now coming from a range of countries, including the Middle East, Africa and Pakistan, and it is likely the trend is going to accelerate.
It appears, from their recent efforts, that both major parties want to try and bring the Muslim community into the mainstream and either educate or marginalise extreme elements.
Whether this is enough to ameliorate the apparent incompatability if Western and Islamic values is still very much unclear.