it difficult to ignore the presence in its midst of a highly visible group making powerful identity claims of its own (Gelder and Jacobs 1998).
That identity should be a prominent theme in Australian political theorising is perhaps not surprising given the nation's colonial heritage. But in the late twentieth century it became a matter of renewed significance as a result of the social transformations wrought by decades of migration, and the influx of non-European peoples after the demise of the White Australia policy in the 1960s (Lopez 2000; Jupp 2002). Coupled with the tendency to repudiate the British inheritance and move towards the symbolism of the republic, this led some theorists to wonder whether Australia might be better understood as a part of Asia. Stephen Fitzgerald went so far as to speculate on the possibility of Australia having a role to play as a significant member of a new Association of East Asian Nations (FitzGerald 1997:176–7). This, he suggests, is a possibility the debate on the republic and Australian identity must lead Australians to consider (FitzGerald 1997:160).
Yet even as these ideas are being considered, the difficulty of contemplating them has been thrown into sharp relief by the emergence of the refugee issue, which has forced a more serious confrontation with the issue of the character of the Australian polity. Australia's traditions as an open, liberal society point towards a policy of increasingly open borders and the free admission of people and goods.Yet its democratic traditions suggest that, in the face of an electorate that is wary of dramatic changes to 'the Australian way of life', such openness may be neither feasible nor defensible. The various topics addressed by Australian political theorists have reflected the centrality of this dilemma in the Australian polity. In the end, it cannot be said that political theory in Australia has developed any single, thorough, let alone compelling work theorising the nature of this dilemma. Nonetheless, students of political theory in Australia will undoubtedly continue to be moved, directly or indirectly, by this concern.
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