There has been considerable political debate about new settlers arriving on Australian shores with their “cultural baggage” and not accepting Australian values. Liberal Prime Minister John Howard has said that a full-bodied commitment to Australian values is something he has always strongly supported and that Australian’s strength and success lies in an overriding and united commitment to Australia.
Labor Opposition Leader Kim Beazley believes Australian values should include respect for each other, mateship, fairness and respect for Australian laws. As a means of encouraging a deeper appreciation of Australian values and the nature of citizenship, Australian Citizenship Conventions could be held, similar to those introduced by the Labor Chifley Government (1945-1949).
These conventions were a direct outcome of the Chifley Government’s massive post-war immigration program. They were to have a two-fold function.
First, to present an organisation that would arouse and enlist the Australian community into appreciating the necessity of the ambitious post-war immigration scheme and second, to educate all Australians to become better citizens and serve as a practical and educative arm in the transition of new arrivals into Australian citizens.
The conventions were federally funded and had the support of national leaders. National radio broadcasting and filming of these important forums further involved the Australian community in the process to inculcate new arrivals into the Australian community.
Modern media and computer technology could be utilised in a similar fashion today.
The inaugural convention was held in 1950 and established the framework for future conventions. They were held in Albert Hall, Canberra, and more often in January to coincide with the celebration of Australia Day. The occasion was to be used to inspire in all Australians a sense of individual responsibility for maintaining the standards of citizenship worthy of a great democracy.
The importance of developing an understanding of Australian citizenship was evident from the first objective listed in the general preamble to resolutions passed at the first convention. It read: “To attain a better understanding and appreciation of Australian citizenship and responsibilities.”
Citizenship ceremonies were highlighted at the conventions to impress upon the nation the symbolic importance of Australian citizenship and were a legal means to instil these ideas upon prospective new citizens.
The Department of Immigration staff created a “grass roots” approach and sent invitations to a large cross-section of the community. Invitations were extended to church groups of all denominations, voluntary bodies, employer and employee groups, state governments, senior government officials, press and radio. They were also sent to representatives of the Salvation Army, Red Cross, Jewish Welfare, Federal Catholic Immigration Committee, Australian Broadcasting Commission and others.
A most practical aspect of the conventions was to provide an organisational structure under Federal Government auspices to inculcate regional and local organisations in the service of a national enterprise in helping new arrivals of non-English speaking background settle into their new homeland.
Discussion groups were arranged at conventions where delegates formulated resolutions. Those passed by delegates at a convention assembly were then submitted to senior immigration department officers for action. The conventions, therefore, established a means through which the immigration and mainstream organisations could continually communicate.
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