Australia and its values, a letter…


We decided to publish this letter from a reader as a sign of support to his words

Dear Melbournians,

who’s writing here is one of your fellow citizens, who has been a “citizen” for almost 3 years but who will probably never be a “real” Australian after all, thanks to the recent government decision of abolishing the 457 visa programme.

Mine is a story like many others, far more common than those “famous” ones that you can find in the papers, which depict a distorted image of reality. A reality made of Italian pizza makers who left Italy with a cardboard suitcase and became big companies’ boss just after a few years here in Australia, or even those asian geniuses who struggle to thrive in their countries, but who became department heads in a prestigious Australian university just after a few semesters.

I’m not saying there is no such cases, but to focus just on telling those stories is misleading for those who read about Australia from abroad and it is also unfair towards Australians, who end up appearing just as “sparring partners” of their new fellow citizens, unable to compete in a global market.

Every day I swim in a sea made out of Visas of all sorts: Working Holidays Visas, Student Visas, 457’s and even New Zealand citizens, who live, work and pay taxes like everyone else, but who constitute in fact a very specific social class, that Peter Mares defines as the “ new-metics ”.

Metic , in ancient Greece, was the name that was given to foreigners who lived in city states occupying a place between the citizens and the unfree in the class system. Despite the fact that metics often had an important role in the society or economy of the city state (Aristotle was a metic ), they weren’t granted any political rights, just like these new-metics are not allowed to express their political opinions, destined to be pseudo-resident taxpayers, suspended in a limbo of eternal uncertainty.

If Ancient Greece seems too far away in space and time, you could look within the Commonwealth to discover that our society already marked as unacceptable the absence of political representation for a productive member of the society.

The Boston Tea Party, thanks to which the independence of the United States of America was achieved, was centered on the principle of “No Taxation Without Representation”. The same principle based on which, not far from our homes, in Ballarat, the Eureka Stockades have been erected and the battle known as the Australian “birth of democracy” took place. The tallest building in Melbourne, the Eureka Tower, should remind these values to all citizens, with no distinction between Australians and new-metics .

The mass movement born between the hills of Ballarat in 1854 not only reinforces the status of that idea who inspired independency in the entire Commonwealth, but also confirms what was, and still is, Australia’s biggest value: multiculturalism. 

Nobody travels more than 17.000 kilometers just to earn a few more dollars per hour, nor for the gold rush. Who migrates to Australia does so for the idea of “fair go” that is endangered today, and for the opportunity of being part of a vibrant social fabric that makes treasure of diversity, the way it has always been in the most productive times in history.

Even in 1854 in Ballarat, workers coming from Europe to work in those mines were without a doubt looking for economic stability in their everyday life, but they also had a deep desire for social justice. The examples are numerous: author of the book “Eureka Stockade” and amongst the inspirers of the miner’s movement, Raffaello Carboni wasn’t a desperate man that had invested his last dollar in the trip to Australia, but was a notable Italian of the Roman Republic, persecuted because he supported the cause of Mazzini and Garibaldi, and therefore forced to migrate “Down Under”. Just like Carboni, Peter Lalor didn’t leave Ireland due to idleness, but because he couldn’t stand a reality that he considered unjust any longer, and like them many others.

With the same spirit many still come here today, investing time, money, energy and hopes, in paths that now seem to be erasable with a stretch of a pen or a few seconds video uploaded on Facebook.

But a modern society animated by positive values should aim to encourage, and not discourage, who truly wants to be a productive part of it. Where history was coming to our aid before, there is now the political economy that states with the words of John Stuart Mill: “it is a great discouragement to an individual, and still a greater one to a class, to be left out of the constitution; to be reduced to plead from outside the door to the arbiters of their destiny, not taken into consultation within”, and again, continued Mill that had it clear more than 150 years ago: “The maximum of the invigorating effect of freedom upon the character is only obtained when the person acted on either is, or is looking forward to becoming, a citizen as fully privileged as any other”.

Living in Melbourne, I know this is still the right place to affirm those values that are not just Australian, but that are common to the whole free and solidal world. As a new-metic though, I can’t contribute actively to the political debate to defend them, now that they are endangered.

What I ask of you then, the “fully privileged” citizens, is to not just stand and watch, but to join the debate, so that Australia can continue to be more and more the country that advances fair. A country to which any English lady can migrate knowing that, participating and contributing to the public life, she will be able to build a foundation for her grandchild to reach any success, even becoming Prime Minister, and being able to express in complete freedom his individual vision of multiculturalism in a Facebook video a few seconds long.

Jimmy Grants