Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Citizen Howard - the great integrater and the "English test"

As predicted by this blog on more than one occasion, Howard is setting up a false dichotomous argument on integration versus multiculturalism to fine tune the dog whistle and wedge what he refers to as the "soft left" (code for a more pejorative term) on his version of "Australianess".

As Kevin Rudd correctly identifies in his recent article in The Monthly, "Howard’s culture war is in large part an electoral strategy drawn straight from the Republican Party’s campaign manual. Its organising principle is fear, and it is deployed in two parts. The first of these is the conscious exacerbation of fear, anxiety and uncertainty – all of which are powerful (though, in effect, disempowering) emotions capable of overriding everything else in the human mind. The second part is to proffer the healing balm of “certainty” in the midst of all the anxiety-inducing “uncertainty”, by running a series of falsely dichotomous arguments in the public debate: tradition versus modernity; absolutism versus moral relativism; monoculture versus multiculture."

Malcolm Fraser took aim at Howard's populist and exclusionist demagoguery in a recent speech, in which he warned "There are already suggestions that this next election will be a 'Muslim election', as a while ago it was the Tampa election...It would create a terrible and unnecessary divide between Islam and the rest of the community."

Eva Sallis nailed the problems with the new citizenship test in a recent article, concluding that "Far from 'helping' Australians be better citizens, this proposed test could signal the end of an Australia that is unique and precious, in which the members of our many communities have equal rights and value before the law."

I have recently started assisting teach English to migrants and refugees through government supported programs. The funding and other resources provided these programs is inadequate, with considerable reliance on volunteer tutors. So, while much is made of the importance of English to "good citizenship", the key vehicles for upgrading English skills are starved of adequate teaching resources. It seems that many people are being set up to fail, through lack of access and bias in the citizenship stakes toward those groups with English language proficiency. This is an exclusionist migration policy by stealth and deceit, and should be condemned.

A few Coalition politicians are worried about the implications of the Testing regime. It will be interesting to see what traction they get within government circles.

The ALP has indicated the next Labor PM will take responsibility for multiculturalism, which is an appropriate response given its core role in achieving social harmony.

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