This week you might notice some people wearing orange ribbons. That’s because this Wednesday, March 21, we celebrate Harmony Day, which also marks the United Nations Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
In 1965 the United Nations enacted the International Covenant on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, which Australia ratified in 1975. This is one of the great body of instruments of the United Nations, which includes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that seeks to protect the human rights of people around the globe.
All of these instruments were set up following the affronts to humanity witnessed during World War II. Now more than ever the common human rights principles found in these instruments matter.
Australia’s proposed citizenship laws potentially breach both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights language rights clause and Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that says everybody has the right to a nationality.
Australian citizenship policy for the last 40-odd years has been profoundly democratic, egalitarian and non-discriminatory. A shared Australian citizenship has broken down barriers of race, ethnicity and language of origin. It has united all Australians around core values like democracy, the rule of law and our shared homeland.
Up until now people wishing to become Australian citizens had to have two year’s residency, pass a Basic English test, pass a character test, and make a public pledge to our country, our laws and our democracy. This has been an inclusive process that has seen many migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds become citizens.
But now the barriers are going up. Undoubtedly since September 11, 2001, the Bali Bombings of 2002, the Iraq War from 2003 and the London Bombings of 2005, the values of cultural diversity and pluralism have been in retreat.
Perhaps not surprisingly some people in the West have responded in kind to these events. People have begun to question the value of multiculturalism. A cursory glance at the responses to this article will soon reveal outright hostility to the concept.
Plugging into this mood in January this year the Howard Government officially dumped the word multiculturalism from its list of ministries. Integration has become the new buzz word.
With these seismic world events Australia has gradually, almost unnoticeably, become a less optimistic society. We have become a society less willing to accept the inherent decency in the hearts of most people we share this magnificent country with.
As Federal Labor MP Carmen Lawrence said recently, “the emphasis is (now) on exclusion rather than inclusion, on fear rather than hope”.
The new politics of fear have now touched on our citizenship laws. Last month, without much fanfare, new laws passed the Australian Parliament that doubled the waiting period for Australian citizenship for some migrants from two to four years.
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