The Australian political class is convinced that Australians are racists and John Howard uses that racism to political advantage. With the citizenship test announced yesterday, Malcolm Fraser pondered:
Why have a new citizenship test for migrants and a flurry of talk about values reared their heads at this point? Is it about creating fear in the minds of many Australians? Is this the politics of race? Is the government using code to say that Moslems are different and that they don???t fit in?
Now, as the 2007 election approaches we have a new race card, this time focusing on the enemy within.
But perhaps this has things the wrong way around. Howard does know that the Australian community is uneasy about some migrant groups. Already back in the 1980s, Muslims did worst in a social distance survey. The long list of PR disasters since isn’t going to have improved Islam’s image. But Howard is also a strong believer in social cohesion and that most Australians are not racists. As my article in the previous link shows, while many Australians will admit to ‘prejudices’, public opinion research also suggests that most Australians are not closed to any particular group, provided that they try to ‘fit in’. On this logic, greater confidence that people are meeting ‘fitting in’ criteria could increase acceptance of migrant groups, and a citizenship test is one way to demonstrate that migrants have made a reasonable attempt to fit in.
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