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Federal Government has introduced a pledge of commitment for new citizens; poet who wrote the first draft claims the final version has been modified

PETER THOMPSON: The Queen is out. New Australian citizens no longer have to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen. Federal Parliament has approved a new pledge of commitment which makes no mention of the Crown. New citizens will now say 'I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey'. The former Justice Minister, Michael Tate, approached one of Australia's leading poets, Les Murray, to draft the new pledge. But Mr Murray now says the final draft is much more bureaucratic than his original proposal. Les Murray says he was trying to develop a more adult understanding of citizenship where the State has obligations, as well as the citizen.

When Les Murray spoke to Stephen Crittendon last night, he began by reading the version he submitted.

LES MURRAY: Under God from this time forward, I am part of the Australian people. I share their democracy and their freedom. I obey their laws. I will never despise their customs or their faith, and I expect Australia to be loyal to me.

My sorrow is only that they left out those last two things that I was trying to get said, but in the end it's their business. It just sounds a bit more bureaucratic than I wrote it, but they didn't guarantee that I would be providing something set in cast iron that they had to take.

STEVE CRITTENDON: What is there about your conception of citizenship that you think this bureaucratic approach, as you put it, is different in?

LES MURRAY: Mine was a bit more daring. It put the citizen above the Government, and made the Government into our servants, and it's expected Australia to be loyal to us rather than .. this one still expects us to be loyal to Australia.

STEVE CRITTENDON: So, you think that the Government is more interested in making people into subjects than citizens?

LES MURRAY: They're far less so under this form of words than they were under the old one, which really was a mighty piece of print. You really lay down at the foot of the sovereign and promised everything and were promised nothing in return. This one doesn't promise much in return, but it's something that an adult can pronounce.

STEVE CRITTENDON: Do you think that there's something important about being promised something in return when you arrive here as a new Australian and want to take out citizenship?

LES MURRAY: I would have thought so. I thought it was .. I mean, not many countries would have that in their form of words, but it would have been nice to have the citizen able to make requests of the Government and expect things of the Government as a right. I guess I was just far more independent minded than that, than they've chosen to be.

STEVE CRITTENDON: So, do you think this new oath exemplifies a problem in Australia that everything gets watered down?

LES MURRAY: Yes, you can imagine the Declaration of Independence written in Australia and how a committee would get hold of it and turn it into a watered down gobbledegook version, you know, that threatened nothing, particularly threatened none of the prerogatives of government. You're never going to get resounding prose out of an Australian government.

STEVE CRITTENDON: Now, you were originally approached by Senator Michael Tate when he was Justice Minister to write the first draft, and when he retired from the Senate, he said this oath was his proudest achievement as Justice Minister. Do you think we have an oath to be proud of?

LES MURRAY: It was his. I mean, it certainly wasn't mine any more, by the time he finished with it, but I'm a bit amused at him calling it his. I suppose it's his modification.

STEVE CRITTENDON: Do you think perhaps that the whole idea of swearing allegiance in order to become a citizen is perhaps several hundred years out of date itself?

LES MURRAY: I'm not sure why you do it. It's to make a break with the past so that .. I think it's possibly a bit of an insurance against the insidious effect of old allegiances which might pull you back into deep dark waters. I mean, those Australian kids .. kids of various ages who are back there in former Yugoslavia shooting at each other - that kind of pull, you know, from the past. You need something to sever you from that and make a sort of a ceremonial entrance into another life.

PETER THOMPSON: Poet, Les Murray.