The Australian Promise

Scarborough

Howard is a third year PPE/Law Student with a passion for international affairs, politics and economics. He writes about all of these things in such profuse amounts normally, that he felt it best to channel into something constructive, like a Woroni column.

pauline-hanson-post

Muslims aren’t incompatible with Australian values, but a ban on their immigration is.

By now, the Essential Poll which found that 48% of Australians were in favour of a ban on Muslim immigration will be last week’s news. An examination of what this means for our society should not be.

Many commentators have labelled this result as surprising, but they shouldn’t. 9/11 was 15 years ago. For those 15 years the West has been at war with an enemy that has no face, and no country, but happens to claim the same faith as just under a quarter of the world, be of a loosely uniform skin hue, and recite in the same language.

I was six when the twin towers fell. The war – as it was fought in Iraq, in Afghanistan, on the London tube, in Syria, in Martin place – was the constant backdrop of my childhood, and the topic of every newspaper and evening news bulletin. It was a formative influence on my politics and my worldview, just as it was for the slightly-under-half of Australians who were children in 2001. I’ve now voted in two federal elections. People who were just learning to drive back then are now in their early 30s, and are likely young parents with families and career jobs. Ours is a generation raised on fear of an invisible, unknowable foe that hides within.

This ultimately is the wellspring of the global rise of the alt-right – from AfD, UKIP and Brexit, to Trump in America and One Nation at home.

Last time Pauline Hanson was in parliament in 1998, her comments on “being swamped by Asians” sat uncomfortably with Australia, as one final reactive echo to the demise of the White Australia Policy 30 years prior.

This time, the four One Nations are the wave rather than a reverberation. Nothing has changed in the method or the rhetoric, just the target – and the fact that in 1998 Australia resoundingly rejected the notion of defining itself as something exclusive to certain religious, racial and ideological groups, while Australia in 2016 is considering it.

This is something to truly fear. Turnbull is not wrong when he describes Australia as the “most successful multicultural nation in the world”. Australia remains the country with the second-highest Human Development Index in the world after Norway, with 0.933. The Economist Intelligent Unit names Melbourne the most liveable city in the world, while the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development chooses Canberra, and on both rankings the state capitals feature highly. Australia today is one of the most prosperous, stable, safe, educated, free and healthy nations in the history of the planet. We are currently in the second longest period of economic expansion in recorded history, and by 2018, it will be the longest.

We owe our success to the Australian Promise. That no matter where or to whom you were born, you can become Australian, a citizen of a democratic, free and egalitarian society. Of course we have never fully realised this promise, but our history has been one of constant progress towards this ideal – from the achievement of women’s suffrage at the turn of the 20th century, to aboriginal rights in 1967, and the racial discrimination act of 1975. And, despite our remaining issues, Australia remains one step through to a mile ahead of the rest of the world.

This of course is not an idea unique to Australia. It’s the common thread of the Western liberal democracies. It’s the idea that won the Cold War. It’s the idea that has dominated the world for the past quarter century.

And more than any rocks in the ground, it’s this idea which drives our prosperity. It’s not mines in the Pilbara that make Melbourne the fastest growing city in the West. It’s that promise of a better life secured by our status as one of the most durable democracies on the planet.

Pauline Hanson and One Nation claim to be patriots, but true patriotism flows from a love of the fundamental principles of our society, rather than a reactionary tribalism. Any ban on immigration discriminating against faith would be a dangerous step backwards from what makes Australia exceptional, the first we have considered in half a century.

And we should take no steps back.