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Eternal subversives

Despite the advent of multiculturalism, the archetypal model in Australia seems to have remained the same

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09 August 2017

"So, if there was a war between Greece and Australia, who would you fight for?" my freckled classmate asked.

"No-one," I responded.

"Come on, you would have to fight for someone. Who would you fight for?" he pressed.

"No-one. I am against war. I would refuse to fight on the grounds that I am a pacifist," I qualified.

"Well," my grade six teacher cut in, "who would you support?"

"What do you mean by support?" I asked.

"Well, who you barrack for?" my grade school teacher enquired.

"It depends," I answered.

"On what?" my freckled classmate questioned.

"On who is right," I rejoined.

"So you wouldn't fight for Greece?" my teacher took over.

"No."

"You wouldn't support Greece?" he continued.

"Depends on the situation."

"Say if Greece invaded Australia?"

"Is that even possible?" I asked.

"Well just say it happened. Would you support Greece?"

"No."

"What if Australia invaded Greece. Would you support Australia?" my freckled friend continued the cross-examination.

"No, because then Australia would be an aggressor," I replied.

"Garbage. You need to choose one. Who do you support. Greece or Australia?" my friend spat exasperatedly.

"Both."

"You're just a poustamalaka," he retorted, walking away. "It's either one or the other. And we all know who you really support."

My teacher stifled a snigger.

Rendered breathless by the artful playground conflation of the Greek terms for homosexual and onanist into a beautiful Australian compound word, it took me a while to process my grade six social studies discussion. When finally each word was distilled, I was puzzled at both my classmates' and teacher's insistence that I 'choose a side,' albeit supposedly hypothetical, or indeed their assumption that my decision-making processes, such as they were in grade six, were determined solely by my ethnic background. The inference was clear, by virtue of that background, I was at least potentially, a subversive element whose loyalty to Australia could be questioned.

In their seminal Greek language study, 'From Foreigner to Citizen: Greek Migrants and Social Change in White Australia 1897-2000' University Philosophy Lecturer George Vassilacopoulos and Tina Nicolacopoulou postulate that despite the veneer of formal equality characterising race relations in this country, there lurks within the substratum, a fundamental concept of the 'perpetual foreigner.' Whereas Australian law is founded upon respect for proprietary rights and the individual, when it comes to foreigners, these tend to be lumped together as a 'group' by those who obtain legitimisation of their rule and presence in this country by conferring upon such foreigners citizenship and residency rights. Nonetheless, these foreigners are not automatically subsumed into the liberal democratic individualist paradigm. They remain a distinct 'group,' which is expected to provide appropriate declarations and exhibitions of loyalty to the ruling culture, or face the fear of being labelled suspect.

Vassilacopoulos and Nicolacopoulou point to various examples of such an attitude being applied to the early pre-Second World War Greek community. They point to Greek newspapers being closely monitored by ASIO, Greek Australian citizens being compensated as foreign nationals in various race riots and Greeks being interned as politically suspect in camps prior to Greece's entry into WWI on the side of the Allies, regardless of their citizenship status. They especially point to the Lord Mayor of Melbourne's speech at the opening of the first Greek Orthodox Church in Melbourne as exemplifying the official attitude towards 'foreigners.' The Lord Mayor in that instance praised the Greek community not for establishing itself under difficult circumstances or retaining their culture but for being among the most hard-working and law-abiding, proving that they are a trustworthy, loyal and obedient 'group.'

Despite the advent of multiculturalism which attempted to alter the paradigm of Australian society as Anglo-Celtic ruled but tolerant of other foreign groups, to a mosaic or melting pot depending upon various interpretations, the archetypal model seems to have remained the same. Try as they might, ethnic communities have not ever been able to be accepted either into the popular consciousness or the ruling classes as 'Australian,' a term, that everywhere outside bureaucrat speak, refers to Anglo Celts. (Even the native inhabitants of this country don't seem to qualify as Australians in the public discourse. Increasingly, they are referred to as First Peoples, quite possibly so as not to be confused with 'real' Australians . . .) Instead, they have been constantly called upon to prove their loyalist credentials at every turn. This phenomenon, Vassilacopoulos and Nicolacopoulou term as the plight of the 'eternal subversives.'

The latest controversy over dual citizenship and/or the entitlement of Australian federal members of parliament to the citizenship of another country by virtue of their ethnic origin, something that is currently proscribed by the constitution of Australia, is a case in point. Section 44(i) states that "any person who is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power" cannot enter parliament. Second-generation Australians can be affected: many nations, such as Greece recognise as citizens not just their native-born who migrated to Australia, but potentially, those migrants' children and grandchildren as well.

It is worth mentioning that ethnic community skepticism currently revolves around a belief that the political sphere and the media have only just discovered the relevant clause in the constitution and have only just determined to enforce it. However, as early as 1992, Swiss-born John Delacretaz, a naturalised Australian since 1960, was ruled by the High Court as ineligible to stand for the federal seat of Wills and told he would have to renounce all connection to Switzerland if he wished to stand again. In response, he wrote a letter to the High Court renouncing his Australian citizenship. Similarly, Bill Kardamitsis, who ran for the same seat, was also found ineligible to run, by virtue of his Greek birth. Further, long serving Labor Federal Member of Parliament Andrew Theophanous' eligibility to hold his seat was also placed under scrutiny, until it was discovered that he had emigrated to Australia while Cyprus was still a British colony and therefore his position was safe.

That section 44(i) has always been considered to be problematic can be evidenced by the fact that in the 1980s the Senate standing committee on legal and constitutional affairs recommended that the provision be abolished and replaced with a statutory requirement that candidates make a declaration about whether they held dual citizenship and what steps they had taken to renounce it. It was the committee's belief that a candidate that did not want to undergo such a procedure should not be automatically barred from office, but rather, that ordinary voters should decide at the polls. Nonetheless, any change to the constitution, requires a referendum and apart from naming and shaming potential subversives, the public discourse does not seem to be overwhelmingly clamouring for such a referendum at this stage.

Considering that migrants and the children of migrants appear to be currently enshrined in the constitution as eternal subversives, it is not surprising that ethnic members of Parliament are scurrying to prove their 'Aussie' credentials. Responding to questions about her eligibility to enter parliament by virtue of her Greek ethnic origin, Australian-born Julia Banks scrambled to assure her interlocutors that she is a 'true blue' Australian. Nick Xenophon went further, claiming that he neither had Cypriot citizenship, nor ever wanted it. It is to these sad lengths then, that the constitutionally enshrined concept of the migrant (or descendant of the migrant) as the eternal subversive, compels politicians to go. It is not enough to require them to choose, in a larger extrapolation of my own classroom experience, forcing them to renounce a citizenship most of them didn't even know they had, on the grounds of legality. They must also be further compelled to make humiliating and ridiculous affirmations of loyalty, uncalled for from other politicians, for in these increasingly nebulous times, any foreign connotation or hint at a foreign tie, makes one automatically a potential subversive element. For someone like Julia Banks, who has in the past spoken about her ordeal of enduring racial slurs in the course of her previous employment, the experience must be harrowing indeed.

The irony of our predicament of course, is that while our constitution bars entry to federal parliament, to people who have or are entitled to dual citizenship, our Head of State was born overseas, and is also the head of state of another fifteen countries, without this incongruity raising any eyebrow, constitutional or paranoid whatsoever. Yet what if there was ever a war between the UK and Australia? Which side would be chosen? Perhaps George Washington has the answer . . . In the meantime, let us hasten to assure each other that we are dinky-di, you beaut, as we, possessed of the Greek passports that allow us cue-free entry to summers in Mykonos, subvert the system from within . . .until the inevitable Greco-Australian war that is.

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