Does History Matter?

Does History Matter?: Making and debating citizenship, immigration and refugee policy in Australia and New Zealand

Klaus Neumann
Gwenda Tavan
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Does History Matter?
    Book Description:

    This volume of essays represents the first systematic attempt to explore the use of the past in the making of citizenship and immigration policy in Australia and New Zealand. Focussing on immigration and citizenship policy in Australia and New Zealand, the contributions to this volume explore how history and memory are implicated in policy making and political debate, and what processes of remembering and forgetting are utilised by political leaders when formulating and defending policy decisions. They remind us that a nuanced understanding of the past is fundamental to managing the politics and practicalities of immigration and citizenship in the early 21st century.

    eISBN: 978-1-921536-95-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Malcolm Fraser

    This collection is a useful contribution to the debate on the vexed question of Indigenous rights but more particularly on the complex issues concerning immigration, refugee and asylum-seeker policy.

    If the attitudes and the tenor of public debate that prevailed in Australia during the Howard years and which appear to be continuing had been dominant in the late 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s and the 1970s, mass immigration, which has contributed so much to Australia′s cultural and physical wealth and to its development generally, could never have occurred. Political parties would have competed on the issue of race, appealing to...

  4. Contributors
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Abbreviations and acronyms
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    On 15 April 2009, the Australian Navy intercepted a boat carrying some 50 suspected asylum-seekers near Ashmore Reef, a group of three small uninhabited islands about halfway between the Australian mainland and the Indonesian island of Roti. In accordance with the government′s policy, the boat was to be escorted to Christmas Island where the asylum-seekers were to be detained while security and health checks were carried out and their asylum claims processed. The next day, an explosion sank the boat, killed six of its passengers and badly injured dozens of others. The explosion was apparently caused when fuel that had...

  8. 1. Gone with hardly a trace: deportees in immigration policy
    (pp. 9-24)
    Glenn Nicholls

    In 1910, Winston Churchill, the British Home Secretary, sought information on deportation practices in order to coordinate them across the empire. J. A. Stalking, Acting Secretary of Australia′s Department of External Affairs, made a note on Churchill′s letter, indicating that the matter was of marginal relevance to Australia and would become important only ′should our present powers of deportation be increased by legislation or more extensively availed of in practice′.¹

    This note was remarkable for completely ignoring the extensive use that the Australian Government had made of deportation since Federation. Just two years earlier, in 1908, the government had concluded...

  9. 2. The unfinished business of Indigenous citizenship in Australia and New Zealand
    (pp. 25-46)
    Roderic Pitty

    Australia and New Zealand are cognate societies characterised by a partial, lopsided engagement. There is regular and extensive interaction in the realms of business and the law, so much so that a recent Australian parliamentary report on harmonising legal systems in both countries was promoted in the New Zealand Lawyer under the heading ′moving to a closer union with Australia′.¹ There is no harmony in sporting contacts between the societies, but these have become a routine, weekly occurrence. Meanwhile, those who see beyond corporate profits and parochialism encourage the creation of a profoundly closer union, based on a mutual awareness...

  10. 3. Oblivious to the obvious? Australian asylum-seeker policies and the use of the past
    (pp. 47-64)
    Klaus Neumann

    References to the past play a crucial role in the development of government policy. Those drafting a new policy often try to heed what they consider to be historical lessons. In order to construct such lessons, they might, for example, analyse the effectiveness of analogous previous policies. Contributors to public debates about government policy, be it within or outside the parliamentary arena, also regularly draw on the past in support or criticism of new initiatives. In discussions about new policies, however, relevant pasts tend to be invoked selectively. Occasionally, policy makers or contributors to public debate ignore historical policies and...

  11. 4. ′A modern-day concentration camp′: using history to make sense of Australian immigration detention centres
    (pp. 65-80)
    Amy Nethery

    In a letter to the Illawarra Mercury published on 15 July 2003, the Federal Member for Cunningham, Michael Organ (Greens), wrote of his visit to the Villawood detention centre: ′The overall impression was one of a modern day concentration camp—razor wire, mud, sad faces, and shame.′¹ Our understanding of contemporary events is shaped, in part, by how we position them within history. Particularly in times of crisis, the connections we make between the present and the past can help us to make sense of contemporary events. Such a process reveals a hidden logic in events that otherwise seem inexplicable,...

  12. 5. Refugees between pasts and politics: sovereignty and memory in the Tampa crisis
    (pp. 81-104)
    J. Olaf Kleist

    On the morning of 25 August 2001, few Australians had heard of the merchant vessel Tampa. The Norwegian ship had left the port of Fremantle three days earlier and was on its way to Singapore. The next day, the Tampa rescued 439 people from a sinking boat, prompting a major shift in Australian refugee policies, sparking a major political controversy and turning around the ailing fortunes of the governing Liberal-National Coalition ahead of a federal election later that year. On the morning of 25 August, Melbourne′s Age carried an article on its opinion page that would become far more relevant...

  13. 6. Looking back and glancing sideways: refugee policy and multicultural nation-building in New Zealand
    (pp. 105-124)
    Ann Beaglehole

    This chapter examines, first, how New Zealand governments have used the past to represent refugee settlement and multicultural nation-building policies. Second, it examines New Zealand′s longstanding humanitarian record of refugee settlement, highlighting how politicians have consistently relied on an idealised version of this record for political purposes, and it discusses aspects of the representation of New Zealand′s immigration history after the 1986 review of immigration policy, especially in relation to multicultural policies.

    The popular myth of New Zealand as an ideal society has contributed to commonplace representations of its response to refugees as outstandingly humanitarian. The myth has also contributed...

  14. 7. Testing times: the problem of ′history′ in the Howard Government′s Australian citizenship test
    (pp. 125-144)
    Gwenda Tavan

    In 2007, the Howard Coalition Government introduced significant changes to Australian citizenship laws, including an extension of the residency requirements for applicants, a tightening of the English-language provisions and a test in which applicants needed to demonstrate their knowledge of Australian values and customs. According to the government, such measures were necessary to ensure the successful integration of migrants into the host society, to protect the Australian ′way of life′ and to reinforce the fact that Australian citizenship was a privilege not a right. When Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, introduced the bill into Parliament, he claimed:

    The test will encourage...

  15. Afterword
    (pp. 145-150)
    Klaus Neumann

    The contributions to this volume argue that Australian and New Zealand immigration, refugee and citizenship policies, and public debates about these policies, are marked by the absence of an informed assessment of past policies and practices. Glenn Nicholls, for example, suggests that those rewriting Australia′s deportation policies since 1989 have ignored the knowledge built up by those administering past policies, while Amy Nethery shows that Australian debates about asylum-seeker policies refer to German concentration camps rather than to the local institutional predecessors of Port Hedland, Woomera and Baxter immigration detention centres.

    How can such amnesia and disregard for historical analysis...

  16. Select bibliography
    (pp. 151-154)