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So who’s singing Australia’s song?

By Gary Johns - posted Thursday, 9 March 2017

A favourite image of the ''Real Australians say welcome'' (to refugees and migrants) crowd is that of the 19th-century Afghan camel driver: a much-admired poster in inner-city eateries.

I could post some of my own. How about one of the 500 or so Australians of Muslim background who have left Australia, or attempted to leave, to fight with Islamic State? How about one of the thousands of Muslims in Australian jails? Muslims in NSW and Victoria are in jail at almost three times their presence in the population.

Not so admired, hey?


How about one of the Muslim students who refuse to shake a woman's hand? How about Keysar Trad for his "traditional" Muslim attitudes to women?

Or Yassmin Abdel-Magied, the public broadcasters' pet "handkerchief glamour" Muslim (a beautiful description by Tanveer Ahmed) for her studied ignorance of Islam's attitude to women?

Somewhere between allegiance to Australia and the Muslim identity sits you and me, middle Australia. So, who should real Australians say welcome to? A group that we do not trust?

In a 2014 Scanlon (local area) survey, of the 48 per cent who moderately endorsed multiculturalism, only 23 per cent were positive towards Muslims; by contrast, 43 per cent were positive towards Buddhists.

Feminists argue that criticising Muslim attitudes to women is a ploy to criticise Islam. And what is wrong with that? What do you support, women's equality or a religion that appears to damn it?

Frank Salter points out that while 500 Australian Muslims volunteered or attempted to volunteer for Islamic State or other Islamist military groups, only 100 Muslims volunteered to serve in the Australian Army.


The politics of this tension between allegiance and identity is quite straightforward. I can assure all politicians that national allegiance beats religious (or cultural, racial, ethnic) identity every time.

Pauline Hanson has vowed to resolve the tension by threatening to ban Muslim immigration. This stance is too illiberal for a liberal democracy but, nevertheless, Australian leaders are bound to assess the risk associated with Muslim (and all other) immigrants.

At present, immigration officials assess character, mainly to keep out criminals. But how to assess values? How do we know who is a real Australian?

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This article was first published in The Australian.

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About the Author

Gary Johns is a former federal member of Parliament and served as a minister in the Keating Government. Since December 2017 he has been the commissioner of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

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