This is the first post in a series I intend to write about the Australian constitution and the possibility of it being modified in an earmarked referendum. The issue at the fore of said referendum is the recognition of Indigenous and Torres Strait islanders as the original inhabitants of these lands. But also raised are a series of wider questions which have prompted debate about contemporary Australian values.
The youmeunity.org.au project, which I was made aware of via some Indigenous activist friends on twitter, inspired this post. I want to get involved with this project, but I feel unqualified and unprepared. I am unsure what is needful from an Indigenous perspective, though I do have questions and ideas of my own regarding the constitution. Sometimes I feel like the constitution is a foreign document, written by people whose ideals are far away from the world in which I currently live, people who couldn’t have prepared for issues like the censorship of online content.
Where to start then, in this series of posts about Australian values? I guess for me the obvious place to start is with what I think Australian values are.
So Then, What are Australian Values?
To me Australian values are those of my core values which I feel are shared by the people around me. Australian’s DO value many things I will not mention, this I do not seek to deny. However, to me these are some values which are defining of Australia, and which sit well with our self-propelled image of fairness, competitiveness and hard work. Our self-propelled image as a nation which offers ALL of it’s citizens a “fair go” and whose economic prowess and natural resources are sufficient to offer us all the chance at fair employment and a decent standard of living.
The first and perhaps most important Australian value on my list is the right to a decent standard of living for ALL citizens, residents and visitors during their stay. This includes access to clean running water for drinking, a variety of nutritional food options and housing which is in-line with Australian and international standards. It also includes clean public spaces, waste management and other municipality services.
Next on my list of Australian values is the right to fair employment. All Australian’s value their right to work. Indeed the legendary “Aussie Battler” image has been instilled in our national identity. Working enables us to earn capital and purchase goods, but it also enables us to dream about a better life in the future. The fairness of working conditions in Australia has always been a point of national pride, we were among the first in the world to have a 38hour working week, and still rank among the highest income earners in the world.
The next 3 major Australian values I feel are all on par with one another and I do not feel they can be easily separated in order of importance. They are the right to an education including language and numerical literacy, the right to access adequate public health services especially in emergencies, and finally the right to an effective, fair and respectful system of law enforcement.
If any one of these three is missing, the others are of a significantly lowered value. What use is an education, if you do not have safety in your own home or on the streets of the city in which you live? What good are security structures if your family is dying from easily curable disease? And how exactly are you meant to know if the security and health services you are getting are of the quality they should be if you do not have an education?
Other important values that Australian’s share include the rights to Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Information (we don’t wan’t the government hiding stuff from us!), Freedom of Religion and Association, the right to Public Assembly and to speak out against government policies or corruption. We also hold as one of our core values the concept of innocent until proven guilty, an idea which has come under threat by successive Federal Governments in their dealings with asylum seekers arriving via boat.
It is a hard to know what ought to be included in the constitution, as our law system is not limited to what is written there. Most established laws in Australia are built on precedent and years of negotiations between law professionals, barristers, judges and the various levels of court up to and including the Supreme Court and High Court of Australia. They are also developed through Parliamentary legislations and exist at different levels and in different jurisdictions. What is enforced as law in Australia today is in fact very complex, but is also, in my opinion, far more in-line with contemporary Australian values than what was written in the constitution at the time of federation.
In fact it is my opinion that the Australian constitution could be significantly improved. I believe it ought to be brought in-line with our international commitments, particularly those made under the auspices of the United Nations, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Conventions on Refugees.
I hope I have provided a good indication of what I believe are Australia’s fundamental values, and I hope this helps you to develop your own views in regard to the up-coming referendum. I would be delighted to receive your feedback, challenges or suggestions regarding this post!