Category Archives: citizenship

Citizenship tests II (or why I hate multiple-choice)

Have a look at some of the proposed citizenship questions, reported in the Herald Sun. Apparently I’m not the only one who is severely unimpressed. I really dislike dumb multiple choice questions. Quite often on forms and the like I can think of more than one answer which applies, but I’m just supposed to tick one box. And I’m a tertiary educated person currently undertaking a postgraduate degree whose first language is English. I can only imagine how confusing it must be for other people.

Some of the citizenship questions just seem pretty silly. For example:

4. Which is a popular sport in Australia?

a. Ice hockey

b. Water polo

c. Cricket

d. Table tennis

Or:

20. What is Australia’s biggest river system?

a. The Murray Darling

b. The Murrumbidgee

c The Yarra

d. The Mississippi

How does knowing these things prove that you are going to be a good citizen? It reminds me of the horrible stuff we had to learn in Geography. I had to know all of the main rivers of Australia and be able to identify them on a map. Geez, it was boring. Can I remember it now? Nope. Thank God. I’ve got more interesting things to put in my brain.

As Irfan Yusuf has pointed out in a post on the topic, some of the questions have multiple correct answers:

5. Australia’s political system is a …

a. Parliamentary democracy

b. Monarchy

c. Dictatorship

d. Socialist state

Well, we are a parliamentary democracy. As Yusuf points out, we are also a constitutional monarchy.

What about:

8. Where did the first European settlers to Australia come from?

a. Spain

b. France

c. England

d. Ireland

La Perouse, a Frenchman, landed in Australia just after Captain Phillip. He subsequently disappeared. Does he count as a settler or not? What about convicts of Irish background who were transported by the English? Do they count?

9. Who is Australia’s head of state?

a. Prime Minister John Howard

b. Queen Elizabeth II

c. Governor General Michael Jeffery

d. Premier Steve Bracks

As Yusuf points out on this one, again, there are a couple of correct answers. The Queen is our monarch, so she’s technically at the top of the tree, but anyone knows that she never actually intervenes in the running of Australia. The Governor General is the representative of the Queen in Australia and our head of state. However, the Prime Minister is the real head of state – the one who goes abroad and represents us on a practical level. About the only one who doesn’t have a head-of-state-like role is Steve Bracks. He’s just the head of a State (distinguishing between a head of state and the head of a State could be a problem for those whose first language is not English).

15. Australia’s values are based on the …

a. Teachings of the Koran

b. The Judaeo-Christian tradition

c. Catholicism

d. Secularism

Again, as Yusuf points out, the Judaeo-Christian tradition informs both the teachings of the Koran and Catholicism. So (a) and (c) are subsets of category (b). Are the options suggesting that they are not subsets of category (b)? – if so, I would suggest that is inaccurate and offensive. If not, the question is just unclear. Also, unlike many countries, we don’t have a state religion. So could it be argued that (d) is also a valid answer.

But the very, very, very, very WORST question follows. It makes me squirm. It’s so jingoistic:

14. Which of the following are Australian values?

a. Men and women are equal

b. ‘A fair go’

c. Mateship

d. All of the above

What exactly do the options in this question mean? (Does it mean that I’m not a real Australian if I don’t know what these terms mean???)

What is mateship? Is it friendship? Or something different? Somehow mateship has always seemed exclusively masculine to me: mates hangin’ out together, knockin’ back a few cold ones. What about “Men and women are equal”? Does this mean just formal equality? Or does it mean substantive equality? And then, the one that makes me squirm the most, “A fair go”. What the heck does that mean? A fair go for whom? (Certainly not the poor suckers who are taking this test). To me, a citizenship test just sounds like the kind of BS that a fair-dinkum Aussie would laugh at and flush down the loo. Perhaps that’s the answer, and it’s all a big trick! All successful applicants must laugh at the test and flush it down the loo.

As long-time readers may recall, I was never enamoured with the citizenship test to begin with, and these stupid questions have realised my worst fears. People will just learn what the “right” answers are, but they won’t actually believe them.

The best way to get people to believe in “Australian values” is to give migrants the language skills to settle into this country well, and help them to mix with the general Australian populace. To really sink in, values have to be learned through example and interaction, not through a class.

Update

Read Ninglun’s very amusing take on the topic. Cracked me up!

Update 2

Looks like the questions were purely the invention of the Herald Sun. Sucked in! Guess it’s one of those cases of “wanting to believe”…

(Thanks to Skepticlawyer for the heads up)

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Filed under Australia, citizenship, crazy stuff, immigration

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.

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Filed under Australia, citizenship, law