November 13, 2009

Citizenship is something we do

When the Howard government introduced a formal citizenship test to replace the former less formal oral test, there was much public debate about Australian values. The question was asked: is there a unique set of Australian values?

In answering this question some said ‘no’: Australian civic values are common to most western liberal democracies. Others said ‘no’: Australian values are universal human values.

At one level these statements are true, but I answer ‘yes’. When you write our values, they are generic. When Australians live the values, they are unique.

Australia’s civic aspirations are perhaps best expressed in text in the words of the Australian Citizenship Pledge.

I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its People,
whose democratic beliefs I share,
whose rights and liberties I respect, and
whose laws I will uphold and obey.

Bob Carr said that "There’s nothing flowery or poetic about these words, but their force and clarity never fails to stir..."

As good as these words are, they are not particularly unique to Australia. You could replace the name ‘Australia’ with ‘New Zealand’ or even ‘Canada’ and it would sound right to our Aussie ear.

I recently read in the Museum of Australian Democracy in Old Parliament House that citizenship is not something you have. Rather, citizenship is something you do. It is the way Australians live and enact the values of liberal democracy and the rule of law that make the values and uniquely Australian.

Many of the basic tenants of Australia’s political and legal system were borrowed from other nations. These foreign tenants and institutions have been profoundly shaped by the Australian people – by generations of migration, our first Australians, and by the continent’s unique climates and landscapes.

No other nation has had a Harvester judgement or a Mabo judgement. Few other nations have compulsory elections. Our policy of multi-culturalism was uniquely shaped to Australia. In few other nations does the Prime Minister invite you to call him by his first name.

Australia’s civic values are made unique by the way we live them. And the way we live them, is shaped by the generations that have come before us and the unique landscape of our island nation.

Citizenship is something we do.

November 6, 2009

Welcome to the Australian Being blog

We have a great job at the National Australia Day Council. Our work involves communicating and organising events and activities for Australia Day on 26 January, as well as coordinating the public nominations and selections of the Australian of the Year Awards. We’re a small team of 13 working year round on these projects.

As part of our work, almost every day we talk about what it means to be Australian and what we celebrate on Australia Day. We thought it was about time to have some of these conversations with you, and get your perspective on being Australian, Australian identity, the history that has shaped us, what is great about our nation today and how we can make Australia even better in future.

The National Australia Day Council leads a network of eight state and territory Australia Day Councils and Committees and hundreds of local committees and organisers around the country. Our mission is to inspire national pride and spirit to enrich the life of the nation. We’re an non-profit, government-owned company and our operations are overseen by a board of Directors. You can see more about us at – About Us – National.

We hope you find this blog at least interesting, and maybe even thought-provoking. The one thing we ask is that if you’re going to post a comment, you be considerate and polite in your response.