Patriotism may not pass Australian values test

The Prime Minister last week called upon all new aspiring new citizens to "join us as Australian patriots", as he spruiked his changes to citizenship laws. We are told these changes, which include better aligning the citizenship test with "Australian values", will strengthen the current system.

We are going to have to take the Prime Minister's word for that – because the government won't release any of the public submissions made to the consultation process on the changes.

Which is unfortunate, because taking a politician at his word is one of the least Australian acts imaginable, somewhere on the scale between serving sausages without tomato sauce and punching a wallaby.

But it is churlish to blame the Prime Minister, or any other politician, for not keeping up with Australian values, because no one seems to be able to define them, least of all the Prime Minister himself.

Australian values seems to be in the vibe of the thing, and there seems to be a general rule that the number of times a person invokes Australian values is directly proportional to their level of what I would loosely call Australian crazy.

The United Patriots Front – an Australian far-right white nationalist group whose leader, Blair Cottrell, looks like a hybrid of Ginger Meggs and a Besser block – claims to be a great keeper of Australian values. Cottrell and his UPF got into bother with the law recently for staging a mock beheading outside a Bendigo mosque.

It seems that in Cottrell's book of Australian values, ironic decapitation is a quintessentially Australian act, like shouting a round of beers at the pub, or falling asleep after Christmas lunch.

That Cottrell's version of upholding Australian values might involve breaking Australian law tends to water down his claim on patriotism somewhat, but that's where the flexible definition of Australian values comes in very handy.

And nowhere is the flexible definition of Australian values more evident than in our national house of democracy. Parliamentarians, who have been voted into being under the auspices of the Australian constitution (which, incidentally, contains no mention of the Prime Minister, but again, let's not be pedantic for he has enough troubles), have to be Australian citizens. I believe many of them would claim to be great Australian patriots.

And yet reports on the willingness of these great patriots to take the money of people stickily close to the Chinese intelligence apparatus have muddied the Australian values project somewhat. And then there is the awkward and possibly due process-subverting behaviour of three Turnbull government ministers last week. Health Minister Greg Hunt, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar must have missed their civics classes, because they were hauled before the Victorian Supreme Court to explain why they should not be charged with contempt, after publicly criticising judges who are still in the process of deciding a particular terrorism case.

This is a possible subversion of li'l ole concept lawyers call the separation of powers, and something they seem to take frightfully seriously.

If the government MPs need a refresher, it is covered in the document released by the Immigration department outlining the "Strengthening the test for Australian citizenship" changes, item number two, under the heading "Values", is "Rule of law".

Jacqueline Maley is a Fairfax journalist

Girt by sea: "And nowhere is the flexible definition of Australian values more evident than in our national house of democracy."

Girt by sea: "And nowhere is the flexible definition of Australian values more evident than in our national house of democracy."