Thursday, May 10, 2012

What Does It Mean To Be Australian

In the midst of all the Budget palaver, the rumours of Peter Costello wanting to return to politics, the Craig Thomson/HSU fiasco, and Barack Obama’s public support for same-sex marriage, it would be easy to lose track of a story in this week’s news media.
Bob Katter says in ten years, Aussies will be a vanishing race as baby boomers die off. To ensure this doesn’t happen, he wants the Government to pay $7000 for every child for every year they’re legally children. Apparently it’s important to ensure that Australian babies are really Australians, and not migrants.
If you’re talking purity of race, you probably mean the Aboriginals – but only the pure ones, with none of that dirty whitefella influence.
No, then perhaps you’re of the view that the ‘real’ Australians – all 859 of them -  that arrived on the First Fleet, and those that came later, from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales; convicts and free settlers who left the Mother Country to make a new life on the other side of the world. Some of my ancestors would be amongst the free settlers who arrived in the middle of the 19th century.
That’s the ‘real’ Australian, the way it was taught in schools in for most of the twentieth century. Australians were of Anglo-Saxon descent, Christian, with a government based on the Westminster System. We adopted and continued their language, their values, their sports.
The fact that a population of First Nations with a rich cultural heritage blanketed the continent for 40 thousand years before the ‘real’ Australians arrived was barely mentioned.

That doesn’t seem likely though, as Katter himself is of mixed Irish and Lebanese descent. Either he is denying his own Lebanese heritage, or he includes some migrants in his definition of “Australian.”
On the other hand, if he is including Lebanese in his version of what makes an authentic Australian, it would be logical to include the rest of the nationalities that come from the Middle East as well.
So far, we have Anglo Saxon, and Middle Eastern in the mix. Left out: the rest of Europe, most of Africa, all of the Americas, both North and South, South East Asians, North Asians, Indians, Pacific Islanders Inuit, Scandinavian.
Perhaps Mr Katter thinks we should just exclude everyone who was born overseas. The most recent Census statistics available, from 2006, indicate that 24% of the population was born outside Australia. What does Mr Katter suggest we do with them to protect the ”Australian race”? Deport them? Lock them up in mandatory detention centres in the middle of the Great Sandy Desert? Sterilise them?
This isn’t funny. This is about as unfunny as you can be, in the midst of such multiculturalism. From my perspective*, it’s divisive and ignorant, and I invite Mr Katter to sit down with me and have a coffee and talk about what makes an Australian.
He may not like our multicultural Australia, but it’s here, and we couldn’t stop it now, even if the majority wanted to. Even a return to our murky past via the White Australia Policy is impossible, and thank for your deity of choice for that!
Luckily for us, Mr Katter has a solution.  Throw money at it: $7000 per child per year to encourage parents (racially acceptable parents, that is) to have more kids, and lower the rates of suicide and homelessness.
In today’s money, that’s $98,000 in handouts to raise a child from newborn to fourteen years old. Obviously the payments would be indexed. On the basis of the 2006 Census figures, we can project a population of about 4.42milliom in that age bracket (0-14) in 2012. If we were to roll out this proposal right now, for the approximately 4.5 million kids between newborn and fourteen, we’d need about $31 billion dollars for one year. Our budget surplus of $1.5b would over about 5% of this payment. Mr Katter has suggested $2.1b, which would barely cover the newborns for a calendar year. Financially, we could not consider such a payment, even if it was sane.
Finally, let’s just take a look at the Australian population as it stands. It is multicultural, with almost one in four Aussies being born overseas. While we tend of think in terms of stereotypical ethnic ghettos, that model isn’t absolute. Even if there was an Australian racial identity 200 years ago, and a completely different one prior to that, there isn’t now. The racial makeup of Australian society is so magnificently inclusive, there is simply no single racial signature that captures what we are.
Multiculturalism, by it’s very nature, places Katter’s call for a financial solution to what he sees as a ‘racial’ problem in the basket marked Crazy-Talk. I’m sure I’m not the only Australian who is both affronted by this overt xenophobia, and amused by the impractical solution he’s proposed.

*My perspective: My maternal family roots are deep in English and Scottish soil, and my paternal family is Pakistani (see photo above). I was born in Australia, but is that enough for Bob Katter? My partner is of Scottish descent, but his first wife is 5th generation Australian of Thai descent. His children are beautiful Eurasian girls who were born here. Are they Australian?
Mr Katter, in terms of race, how do you define “Australian”?

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