Citizenship tests

I do not think that the proposal to make immigrants to this country sit citizenship tests will serve any good purpose. In part, my reluctance stems from the fact that I am sure that many Australian-born citizens would not perform well at such a test, so it seems somewhat hypocritical to expect immigrants to do it.

In fact, I wonder how I would fare? For example, I can’t remember who our first Prime Minister was, but I think he had a beard. Gorton? Barton? Something like that. I’m not sure that I remember the first verse to Advance Australia Fair, let alone know the second and the third verse. And is wattle our national flower? I think so… I know the Victorian flower is pink and bell shaped, but I can’t remember its name. Do I get half a point for that? In fact, I’m not really a very good Victorian; after all, I forgot it was the AFL Grand Final on Saturday. Perhaps I should be repatriated to another State, or another country.

In case you’re curious, I’m hardly a new immigrant. A couple of my forebears came out on the Second and Third Fleets (yeah, some of them were in shackles, since you ask). As one of my Aboriginal friends said, “Hey, if your mob had arrived here any earlier, you’d be indigenous!”

So, what are the present requirements for citizenship? The Australian Citizenship Act 1948 (Cth) requires most applicants for Australian citizenship to have fulfilled the following prerequisites:

  • to have spent a specified period of time in Australia;
  • to have an understanding of the nature of the citizenship application;
  • to have a basic knowledge of English; and
  • to have an adequate knowledge of the responsibilities and privileges of Australian citizenship.

There are exemptions for older people and those suffering a permanent incapacity. Applicants must also establish that they are likely to reside, or continue to reside, in Australia, or to maintain a close and continuing association with Australia. All applicants over the age of 18 years must be of good character.

The Australian citizenship pledge is as follows:

From this time forward, [under God,] 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 “under God” in parentheses is optional. Children under the age of 16 are exempt from making the pledge.

A friend of mine became an Australian citizen about two years ago. We went along to the ceremony without any idea of what to expect. It was surprisingly moving. We were very proud and pleased to be there to support our friend. We cheered when he got his certificate. I thought the ceremony was simple and appropriate.

I tend to agree with the opinion piece in The Australian the other day which said that a citizenship test would just end up being like a driving test: you cram your brain full of information for the test, pass the test and then forget the information. I am very good at cramming, and I am sure that if I was taking a test like this, I could cram my brain full of the “right” answers without really taking them in. And if I was determined to do anything “un-Australian” I would make sure I passed the test with flying colours and then go about my un-Australian business. In an aside, I’ve never been sure what “un-Australian” means exactly, but I don’t really like it. Apparently, citizenship ceremonies have become increasingly politicised lately. Well, if we’re going to bandy around terms like un-Australian, I reckon it’s un-Australian to have political wowsers lecturing new citizens. Yawn! Who wants to listen to bl**dy pollies pontificate anyway?

I don’t think I’m drawing a long bow when I surmise that the subtext to these citizenship tests is a fear of Islamist terrorists (or even just a fear of ladies in burqas and crazy dudes with white hats and big scary beards). The Federal Government has made a number of statements indicating that Muslim immigrants need to integrate. Now, if you’ve read my earlier posts here and here, you’ll know that I’m certainly not an apologist for Islamist terrorists, or religious fundamentalism of any stripe. But I’m also not a fan of fear-mongering and populist grandstanding. Realistically, I don’t think making people sit a citizenship test is going to make a difference to whether they decide to become a terrorist or not. Take the London Tube bombers, who were English born and bred. I’m sure they knew God Save the Queen and recognised the Union Jack.

I read an interesting article in The Age which links impoverishment and lack of economic development with terrorism. I am sure that greater economic development and education would mean that the pool of potential terrorists would be smaller. Of course, the impetus also has to come from within: people must recognise that terrorism is a problem and want to rid their society of this mentality. But it is easier to want to change if you have some hope and opportunity. After all, I don’t think the so-called “War on Terrorism” has done anything to prevent terrorism; if anything, it has increased the risk of future terrorism. It would be much better for our government to focus on long term solutions, helping countries to stand on their own two feet.

To my mind, the really important thing to help new citizens settle into Australia is to help them learn English so that they can talk with and work with their fellow Australians. As pointed out, many successful Australians spoke little or no English when they arrived here, but managed to integrate and contribute to our society. More funding for English teaching facilities (particularly in rural areas) seems like a better idea to me than citizenship tests.

For those who are interested, the Department of Immigration has prepared a discussion paper on the proposal for citizenship testing. You can submit your views on the matter here.


Filed under Australia, citizenship, law

3 responses to “Citizenship tests

  1. Damaskinos

    What tends to be forgotten that many European migrants still speak very little English more than 30-40 years after they rached the country. But many of them still manage to make a contribution by their hard work and industriousness.

  2. Legal Eagle

    I do think it’s good to give people the opportunity to learn English if they want to. And I also think it will help people settle in. But you are right: it’s not necessary for someone to speak English fluently to become an Australian who is committed to our society.

    I was actually thinking about that today. I know an elderly lady of Japanese origin who has lived here for over 30 years, but she still doesn’t speak much English. I suspect that she understands much more than she speaks. My Japanese is not much better than her English these days, but we do our best to converse. From what I understand she married an Australian and regards herself as Australian and I don’t see any reason why she shouldn’t be a proud Aussie too.

  3. Pingback: Citizenship tests II (or why I hate multiple-choice) « The Legal Soapbox

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