Immigration Minister Peter Dutton; Photo: Photo: Andrew Meares, Sydney Morning Herald
At what point is an Australian, Australian? How many tax returns, what number of backyard barbies, Holden Commodore or Ford Falcon?
Recent comments by Peter Dutton suggesting that the Fraser government erred in allowing an influx of Lebanese migrants in the 1970s highlighted, for me, a mindset that for too long has pervaded our thinking – and our narrative - as a nation.
Minister Dutton said it better than I could, and ABC News was one of many media outlets to pick up on the comments, and the reaction.
"The advice I have is that out of the last 33 people who have been charged with terrorist-related offences in this country, 22 of those people are from second and third generation Lebanese-Muslim background.”
So, according to the person who has the greatest say on immigration policy in this country, more than four decades of life as an Australian does not constitute being Australian and, more importantly, being seen as Australian.
If that’s the measure, logic says that many other ‘Australians’ – those whose heritage is not from where we’d like – aren’t Australian at all. They’re people, in this case, of Lebanese descent. Always were, always will be.
At a time when we as a community are dealing with a rising tide of disaffected young migrants, the last thing we need is to add fuel to the fire. When we do, their only meaningful response is to rebel, increasingly it seems with violence.
At that point, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The people we effectively marginalise through labels that tell them they’re different are the same people who we expect to assimilate – to be like us, to sound like us, to live like us. And yet, they never will – at least not in the eyes of us ‘real’ Aussies.
Aside from the vexed issue of racial intolerance, it highlights the power of the spoken word and how the language we choose effectively describes where those new to our country really stand in our eyes. It can have a disproportionate and, often, underestimated effect on the way they see themselves.
And that’s not accounting for the other argument in this debate. That if 20-odd so-called second or third generation Lebanese-Muslims are guilty of terrorist-related offences, what of the tens of thousands of others who have made an immeasurable contribution – cultural, social and economic – to their country?
Of course, that’s what we expect of them so why would it rate a mention? It should. It’s a story that’s not told well enough, nor often enough, through our mass media. We might begin by asking our immigration minister to acknowledge, genuinely, the immense contribution of the said generation of Australians to the country we are today.
Perhaps he would, if he was fair dinkum.
Jim Stiliadis is a director of strategic communications consultancy, Six O’Clock Advisory. His parents migrated to Australia in the 1950s.