The View from Howard World


I didn’t want to buy into the ‘Australian Values’ debate, let alone the Howard Doctrine of Australian Citizenship. I saw little point in descending to the level of the extreme element ruling Australia nowadays.

Howard World contrary to the distorted version conveyed through the fantasies of his courtesans in the media bears no resemblance to the real and vibrant Australia that most of us know. Having had the misfortune of co-existing with extreme regimes before (in Argentina in the 1980s), I simply decided to use a very Australian expression which would delight our Prime Minister to let these issues fly through to the keeper.

If I learnt anything from those ugly days, it’s that you can’t fight ideological adversaries who control the media discourse. You waste your breath and ruin your health. This doesn’t mean that I am resigned to my fate to live under a regime which uses fear and intolerance as the levelers of political discourse. Far from it.

It means that I know from experience that these regimes have limited shelf lives. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, Howard is like a judge in his last days on the bench. He is still very powerful but he will go, and so will his ideology and the perversity that passes for policy.

I decided to sit and wait, stoically. I said to myself: weather the storm, put it to one side, enjoy all the beautiful things Sydney has to offer, concentrate on your own happy lot.

The problem is I co-host a daily news and current affairs program on the only 24/7 Spanish-speaking radio station in Australia. It’s called Radio Austral and it has a largely working-class audience across Sydney. Hours after Howard World unleashed its Citizenship Doctrine, we invited our audience to respond.

I was stunned. These law-abiding, mostly Catholic, hard-working immigrants were not just complaining about Howard World’s Citizenship Doctrine. They were wailing. They were hurting. They were despairing.

It is their pain which prompted me to write this article. I wanted to tell their story at a time when even well-meaning commentators, on the rare occasion when they are able to publish in the mainstream media, think they know what these people may think. I don’t think they do.

Thanks to John Ditchburn (Ditchy)

What follows is very different from the voices you will hear on 2GB. This was not said in the broken English that often obscures the clarity of thought of people talking in a foreign tongue. This was, freely and unprompted, in the splendor of their own language:

Values? What Australian values? The values of what? Beer? What is so Australian about democracy? About respect for the law? I know more about democracy and the law than they do I actually had to FIGHT for those values. And they have the gall to pretend that we should learn from them about their ‘values’? About compassion? How can these people preach ‘compassion’ when they showed none in the past look at what they did to the Aborigines, look at what they did to the refugees What values are they talking about?

So now they want me to sit a test in English. They didn’t give a damn about my English when they brought me here in the 1970s. I was brought here to clean their toilets, wipe off their s**t, and now they want me to sit a bloody test I can tell you where they can shove their test and their values

This is not the Australia that I knew. This is not the Australia I fell in love with. I fell in love with a country which showed solidarity, compassion, understanding Now this is neofascism. I saw this before in Chile. Pinochet was born ahead of his time.

I have been here for 30 years. My English is bad. I could not learn English when I arrived. I had a family to feed, I worked my arse off to bring up my kids; what I want to say to Mr Howard is that I may have a horrible accent, I may not even understand half of what they say to me, but I am a good person, I am a good citizen, I pay my taxes, and I know more about your values than you may think, and there is nothing AUSTRALIAN about them. I brought my values with me, and thank God I did. I won’t learn ‘values’ from you.

I am an Argentine Jew. When I arrived in Israel with my husband, the State of Israel had a policy, which is still in place, to assist migrants with the learning of Hebrew. When we arrived in Australia after Israel, they gave us no help whatsoever to learn English. None. And now they want people to sit a language test How fair is that?!

I am 75 years of age. I am an old and frail woman now. We came here with nothing. My English is still bad. However, I did what I could, and my now dead husband worked very hard to bring up a good family. Now Australia is my country, I can’t go back where I came from. I don’t like this but I am not going anywhere. I brought up two kids in this country. My English may not be good, but my children’s is, and I am so enormously proud of them. You see, I could send them both to University me! this poor Mexican immigrant, who speaks with an awful accent. And you see my children, they’re both doctors now. They cure people now. I am so eternally grateful that Australia gave opportunities to my children. In Mexico, I never would have been able to send my children to university That is why I am so angry. This Mr Howard has no idea what he is doing to this country. He is like a CRAB, he walks backwards. Just ask him to come to my place to teach me about his values. I’ll tell him where he should go. Maybe he should learn about ours.

I will start drinking beer every day, watch cricket endlessly every summer day, eat meat pie after pie after pie, or fish and chips to mix it up, spend my evenings at the local pub, get pissed with my mates, bash a few sheilas every now and then, and stop watching that Wog Ball they call soccer once and for all. Let’s be like them. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, Oi, Oi! Mate, I am trying to be funny but I am weeping. What these people have done to this country of ours Why? If those are their values, mate, I give up.

I am ashamed. I don’t want to tell my friends and family in Argentina what it is happening here. This constant discrimination, this feeling that we are all second class citizens I don’t even want them to come and visit me here. I don’t want them to see this. I thought I was coming to a better world, but not now. I may have a better house or car, but it is the humiliation I cannot put up with. Who do these people think they are? Who does Mr Howard think he is? What is so ‘Australian’ about their culture which had to be venerated in this way

This is just a sample of the talkback callers. It went on and on, for hours, until we finished the program. I thought it worthwhile sharing their comments, a by-product of their frustration, with the wider non-Spanish-speaking audience of Australia.

None of them said that they did not want to learn English. To the contrary, most of them lamented the fact they could not speak better English. None of them refused to ‘integrate.’ To the contrary, they took pride in the fact they and their children had done so. The fallacy of immigrants unwilling to ‘adjust’ to Howard World comes unstuck as soon as someone questions the alleged misfits.

Clearly, Australia is a great nation because of the diversity of its people deriding immigrants as ‘un-Australian’ because they cannot speak fluent English or know the bizarre, irrelevant subtleties of cricket is a sad reflection of the ethnocentrism driving Howard World.

Unless, of course, the Howard Doctrine is simply a cynical attempt to manipulate the worst instincts of the Australian psyche for short-term political gain, perpetrated by a group of men without a moral compass.

If this last hypothesis is true, I wonder if the perpetrators smugly unaware of it in their own self-referring world have any idea of the pain and suffering they are inflicting on many Australians?

You can read Andrew Robb’s Citizenship Testing Discussion Paper, and respond via a ‘Community Consultation Form.’ The consultation period closes on 17 November.

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