Wednesday, January 25, 2006

John Howard: The centre will hold

A very important speech from Australian Prime minister, John Howard. In the wake of the Cronulla riots, he doesn't flay himself and cringingly mutter contrition. He asserts and re-asserts Australia's founding values, which are those of the Enlightenment and British Parliamentary democracy. He calls for a renewal in the teaching of History that ,without ignoring the condition of the Aborigines, passes on to the young the sources of Australia's achievement. Funnily enough, those sources are all European.

Australia's ethnic diversity is one of the enduring strengths of our nation. Yet our celebration of diversity must not be at the expense of the common values that bind us together as one people: respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, a commitment to the rule of law, the equality of men and women and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need...

We've moved on from a time when multiculturalism, in the words of historian Gregory Melleuish, came to be associated with "the transformation of Australia from a bad old Australia that was xenophobic, racist and monocultural to a good new Australia that is culturally diverse, tolerant and exciting". That view was always a distortion and a caricature.

Most nations experience some level of cultural diversity while also having a dominant cultural pattern running through them. In Australia's case, that dominant pattern comprises Judeo-Christian ethics, the progressive spirit of the Enlightenment and the institutions and values of British political culture. Its democratic and egalitarian temper also bears the imprint of distinct Irish and non-conformist traditions.

Quite separate from a strong focus on Australian values, I believe the time has also come for root-and-branch renewal of the teaching of Australian history in our schools, both in terms of the numbers learning and the way it is taught...

Part of preparing young Australians to be informed and active citizens is to teach them the central currents of our nation's development. The subject matter should include indigenous history as part of the whole national inheritance. It should also cover the great and enduring heritage of Western civilisation, those nations that became the main tributaries of European settlement and, in turn, a sense of the original ways in which Australians from diverse backgrounds have created our own distinct history.

It is impossible, for example, to understand the history of this country without an understanding of the evolution of parliamentary democracy or the ideas that galvanised the Enlightenment. In the end, young people are at risk of being disinherited from their community if that community lacks the courage and confidence to teach its history. This applies as much to the children of seventh-generation Australians or indigenous children as it does to those of recent migrants, young Australian Muslims or any other category one might want to mention.
(From The Australian. My highlighting.)

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