October 8, 2006
The federal government’s plans for citizenship tests on Australian culture and values has drawn another high profile critic, former governor-general Sir William Deane.
Sir William said on Sunday national values and principles should be discussed, but they should not form the basis of citizenship tests. Australia’s multicultural society should be seen as the nation’s “greatest achievement”, not “damn(ed) with lip service while undermining the mutual respect which lies at its heart”.
Sir William opened the National Civil Society Dialogue in Canberra on Sunday, on the theme, What kind of Australia do we want?
He said there should be considerable public discussion on the identity and importance of national values, principles and characteristics in Australia.
But the values should not be used for tests, such as the citizenship tests the federal government has been considering for immigrants.
“There are values and principles of great importance, not so much for framing tests of exclusion from our society, but for defining and informing the standards, and as reference points for the policies and actions of those within our society,” Sir William said.
Sir William, who also is a former High Court judge, said certain standards were recognised throughout Australia.
“I have no doubt there is an almost universal recognition of the basic requirement of honesty and truth in the conduct of government,” he said.
Sir William said multiculturalism was the nation’s greatest achievement and had become even more important through the threat of terrorism.
“Instead of recognising that the threat of international terrorism has exponentially increased the importance of that multiculturalism as an increasing cohesive which binds us together as a community, there is a tendency to damn it with lip service while undermining the mutual respect which lies at its heart,” he said.
And Sir William said in order to ensure Australia continues to be a vibrant and democratic society, we must continue to challenge the status quo.
“In an environment where the mass media is concentrated and where media power is all invasive, a failure or refusal to ask or address the right questions can preclude the honest and properly reasoned informed communication and debate, which is essential to the proper operation of a genuine democracy such as ours,” he said.