Failing the Citizenship Test

Excellent. On the basis of the Draft Citizenship Test Resource Book released yesterday I’d fail Australia’s new Citizenship Test. And if a privately-educated 5th-generation Aussie-Anglo like me can’t do it, I reckon few other Australians would pass either.

But that’s OK, because a multiple-choice “Citizenship Test” is meaningless. Let’s remind ourselves what happened when Apu went for US citizenship in The Simpsons. “Being American” was reduced to a cliché.

And the booklet itself is a gorgeous piece of political propaganda that’ll achieve the following:

  • The bitter old Alan Jones listeners Howard thinks he needs to placate will be relieved to see an emphasis on the UK as the biggest source of migrants and Christianity as the biggest religion. They’ll think this will stop the “wrong” people becoming citizens. Once more, Howard is Big Tough Daddy protecting them from the woggy bogeymen.
  • It’ll cause Howard’s much-hated “elites” — that is, anyone capable of using logic, analysis, multi-syllable words or joined-up thinking generally — to run around in circles for a week or two, losing focus on real election issues.
  • Howard gets another chance to moisten over all those “achievements” he personally considers important but which he could never achieve himself — being a soldier (because of his hearing problem) and playing cricket (because he’s completely bloody hopeless).
  • It’ll create a minor black market in the answers to the test, which will appear approximately a week after the first potential citizens are processed.

What’s remarkable is how backward-looking the booklet is… and how biased to Howard’s personal interests.

The words “science”, “physics”, “medicine”, “genetics”, “aviation”, “satellite”, “solar” and “film” don’t appear at all, despite Australia’s renown contributions in those fields. “Beer”, “ale” and “lager” are completely absent. “Literature” appears just once. “Computer” only once too — in the context of the test being computer-based.

Who was the first Prime Minister of Australia? Who cares? “George Washington,” suggested our Korean cleaner this morning with a laugh — but of course most Australians would indeed know more about the US system than our own. Do we really need to know where Phar Lap’s heart is? Will the Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Olympics really be of any relevance in 5 years time?

Are we choosing Australian citizens for the 21st Century, or putting together a geriatric pub trivia team?

One question really makes me laugh, though. Who do members of Parliament represent? This is a trick question, right?

28 Replies to “Failing the Citizenship Test”

  1. This whole thing is a trick question!

    This has about as much to do with protecting borders or selecting “good” citizens as the Nauru “facility”, throwing brown non-Christian children overboard, or taking them away from their parents…

    I wish we were done with the election already!

  2. Generally think these are a great resource for anyone wanting to learn about their new country!

    Maybe there could be a few more modern references, as you suggest.

    As for good citizens; no this alone wont ensure that – but luckily it’s not the main method for checking that.

  3. I suspect I’d pass but only because I have a bit more of a clue about how Australian government actually works than most people – I’m forever explaining preferential voting it seems.

    As for the history – words really do fail me (and that’s a rare event).

    I’m guessing I’d get the ‘when did European settlement happen’ question ‘wrong’.

    And I’m going to get thrown out of the country for thinking the Anzac legend (it’s called that because it’s a *legend*, folks) is a load of bellicose poppycock which is being spruiked for political ends, not to mention thinking that sport is completely, utterly unimportant. Bugger Phar Lap – what about Patrick White? Or a few of our other Nobel Laureates?

    As for respect for the Rule of Law – tell that to the Gunns Corporation.

  4. @Zern, @jason and @Quatrefoil: Thanks all, and you’re all hitting very good nails right on the head. But, you see, this is of course nothing to do with controlling citizenship — but it’s everything to do with “sending the right signals” to the electorate.

    Or, more specifically, to those specific voters who think this sort of stupid test will make a difference. Nothing else matters — especially in an election year.

  5. Absolutely – but the lengths they’re going to to achieve their ends isn’t helping my blood temperature any. Mind you, I’ve now got to the point where whenever this government does something outrageous I look to see what it is they’re sneaking through while we’re all looking the other way. Any ideas?

  6. I just disagree that we should automatically discount what the government is doing here. Maybe it is *us* who are reacting to fear by seeing a sinister side to something that is fairly benign. There has to be *some* test for citizenship, and we hope the immigrants would show *some* level of interest in their new country. A harmless test, where the questions are given for your (fairly basic) research purposes, isn’t quite as big a deal to me as it seem to be for you guys.

    Also, the pass level is 60%. Something you forgot to mention. Not a particularly high target and I imagine all those people jumping to scoff that they’d fail the test would, in fact, pass.

    Perhaps the new character of a typical Aussie is snide and cynical. Maybe this was bought about by the campaign of constant fear. I think ultimately its the effect of the new wave of journalism and media, where everything is under a critical eye, and everything is entertainment. And mostly the journalism is second rate, biased, and written with a political purpose in mind. And so politics it self has become a performance. Everything carefully orchestrated for maximum impact with minimal detail. While the media is huddled around like vultures waiting for that prized negative angle.

    Just do the fucking Immigration test! It’s not hard. Take an interest if you want to live here so much. The majority of the questions *are* valid and useful. And those that are not, we can comment *constructively*.

  7. I think they should make the whole country do the test (seriously). Those who don’t pass get deported (we could make good use of Nauru!). Ok that comment was somewhat less serious (well about Nauru anyway).

    I think I’d pass rather easily because I did pay some attention to the civics class at school and have a working memory of sorts (unlike say most of the other people in class).

    I agree it’s a fairly harmless test, but ultimately it’s a waste of taxpayers funds. I don’t really give a shit whether new migrants know about our culture – these things can be learned and picked up by osmosis over time. I just think there are far more important things to spend our funds on.

  8. It’s not solely the knowledge of our culture. Perhaps also a (small) gesture or display of a willingness, a show of interest.

    In so far as taxpayers expense, I imagine this would not exactly blow the budget.

    If it’s good enough for our Aussie kids to learn in school, then I’d contend it’s good enough for our new citizens to answer (a mere) 20 basic questions. Multiple choice, at that! *sigh*

    Past Aussie immigrants were required to build bridges and dams! 😉 These folk have it easy. Then again, I suppose many of them end up down mines in WA.

  9. As I said before, I don’t particularly mind the test – just make every current Australian citizen do it. Strip people’s citizenship if they fail it. If we are to go through this silly exercise, we might as well be fair and equitable.

  10. Thanks all for the comments. I see three important threads emerging here:

    1. The pointfulness/pointlessness of the test. The test cannot weed out “bad people”, because the bad people will simply rote-learn the answers. Anyone who can’t understand that point is a moron. We already have police checks etc to do that. So on this level the test is a waste — we shouldn’t be spending a single cent on it. We should never spend money on something which we know will not work. We should be embarrassed to be that stupid.
    2. The content of the test. Even assuming a test like this will help people “become Australians”, I contend that the balance of content is wrong. Yes, the civics should be there, but so much sport? Nothing about science? So backward-looking?
    3. Equity. If New Australians (wow, that sounds so 1970s) have to pass the test, then all Australians should. I know Snarky Platypus wasn’t being facetious in his suggestion — and indeed there’s no difference between Australians having to pass a civics test when they turn, oh, 13 and a Catholic having to do Confirmation before they become a True Catholic.

    Going back to my original article, the Test has achieved the second aim. We are spending a lot of time talking about something which will have zero net effect on Australian society.

    For another view, see a response via Crikey.

  11. 1/ Do you actually believe the government thinks is a definative test for weeding out the bad people? I don’t think you really beleive that. You’ve chosen to believe it for the sake of your entertainment piece.

    2/ Yes, the government does need help with the questions. That’s maybe why they released it as a draft.

    3/ Not sure I even understand the reasoning behind that. Maybe all Australians should also pass year 10 if they have not already done so.

  12. Most Australians have never had to do a test like what they’re proposing for the citizenship test. Even when I did my civics in year 10 in the late 90s, there was a “trial exam” in civics for the School Certificate (I think my year was the first year they did it). It was quite meaningless – pretty much like this current test actually. So they should make everybody do it. I like the idea of national cramming – it would bond the country like never before.

  13. @jason: No, I don’t believe for one moment the government thinks the test will weed out bad people. I think that’s what they want certain voters to think, though. That’s actually my point — that it’s a cynical vote-winner to placate the morons who think you can do a cheap “test” for understanding and commitment.

    On the third point, the logic is simple: It’s unfair to impose a test on someone else if you’re not willing to apply the same test to yourself.

    Also, if someone born here believes they automatically qualify as “understanding and committing to Australian values” because they magically absorbed them over a few years, then by what logic do they think a potential New Australian can’t also absorb those values? After all, you can only apply for citizenship after you’ve already been a permanent resident in Australia for some years.

    I’m not necessarily saying I agree with the logic, but that’s the explanation.

    I did say that “three threads are emerging” — I never said I agreed with those threads. I’m just exploring the issues.

  14. I was talking to my mother last night. She’s recently had major surgery for bowel cancer and is doing very well. She told me about her conversation with her surgeon whose surname is Nguyen. She asked him if he’d come here as a refugee and he told her that he had, and was literally plucked from the water as a child with his parents when his (illegal) boat sank. He volunteered the information that he was so grateful to the Australian nation for taking him in and to the Whitlam government for providing him with a free university education that he chooses to continue to work in the public hospital system as a way of expressing that gratitude.

    I think this proves that if we want immigrants to become good and useful citizens we’d do a lot better by showing them compassion and welcome than by making them do a ridiculous test which Mr Nguyen and his family (who spoke no English) would almost certainly have failed.

  15. I’m not sure this is incompassionate.

    While Mr.Nguyen’s example is a great one, it’s the overall picture that would interest most I hope.

    (Not that anyone is suggesting genuine refugees plucked form the water should be saved on condition of passing the test)

    There are places in the UK you simply would not visit due to racial segregation. The london bombings were not due to religion, they were born out of young people feeling disassociated due to some impractical Left policies in past generations.

    Not that the bombing itself is of interest, just as someone becoming a doctor is not of paticular interest, it’s the social fabric that most people would care about.

    Does this test help in that regard? I think a simple test, with perhaps more pertinent questions, that is relatively simple to pass if you bothered to spend a little time learning about your new country is a positive step in the right direction.

  16. Oh come on Stilgherrian. Do you even realise the bigger picture here? No don’t answer that. I don’t think you’re getting it.

    Look at it from a Government’s point of view where decisions need to be made and action needs to be taken.

    Fact: there are millions and millions of people wanting to relocate to Australia.

    Fact: the easiest, most effective and equitable way of selecting citizens is through a filtering mechanism.

    Fact: the optimal filtering mechanism is – oh hang on a second – a test.

    We simply don’t have the resources in our Government – nor am I willing to pay for them as a taxpayer – to exercise any alternatives. Interviewing or getting “up close and personal” with every single person wanting to relocate to this country just to see whether we are allowing the “right” people through the doors is expensive and extremely subjective.

    I think it’s great to have people understand “the basics” when moving to a new country. Makes perfect sense. You do a bit of research so when (if) you are approved to relocate to this country, you’ll have at least some clue about our roots and what’s been going on etc.

    And no, current citizens should not be obliged to sit the test. We do similar tests and learn Australian history at school anyway.

    P.S. Um, yes, the opening ceremony for the 2000 games will be relevant in 5 years and for the next 50 years for that matter.

  17. @jason and @patrick (welcome!): Both of you seem to be saying that this test will “work” — that is, it will show that potential citizens have committed to our “values”. How, exactly, will it do this? As I said in my original post, people will just rote-learn the answers, bought on the black market. This already happens with the taxi driver test. This core failure has not yet been addressed in this discussion.

    Your three facts, patrick… Fact 1, that people want to come to Australia, sure. “Millions” even. Calling them “millions and millions” is a nice rhetorical technique to imply a massive horde. Well done. 🙂 Fact 2 is a tautology: “selecting” and “filtering” are essentially synonyms. Fact 3 is an assertion, not a fact — unless you’re using the word “test” in such a broad sense that it’s just another synonym for “select”. Evidence or logical support please!

    My core point was — and still is! — that this test won’t work, that this test is just a pre-election stunt, and that this test presents a view of Australia with which I disagree.

    Now overnight I’ve realised two things which seem to be forgotten in this debate — not necessarily you two chaps but in general:

    1. There are already filters. Potential citizens have already been permanent residents (PR) for 5 years, giving them plenty of opportunity to absorb Australian values — certainly more than a booklet. To get a PR, you must pass health, character (police) and security checks. You are interviewed “up close and personal,” as patrick puts it. You must already have family here, possess work skills, be a genuine refugee or be a “business migrant” — i.e. have cash in pocket. And you pay for it — over $2000 last I looked. Some rhetoric around this issue tries to gloss over this fact. This is already a tough country to migrate to.
    2. Australia’s migration policy is non-racist. That is, you pass the existing tests on your merits. Your race or ethnicity doesn’t come into it. This proposed new test will not change that — but what offends me is the cynical way in which its promotion will appeal to the Alan Jones listeners who would want to see the White Australia Policy return, because they’ll hear the references to “UK” and “Christian”.

    Unless someone wants to say they’d like to see race or ethnicity become a criterion? In which case, prepare to see me really arc up!

    @patrick: Without Googling, please list the three major themes of the opening ceremony in the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. Betcha can’t.

    I’m enjoying this discussion. It really helps sharpen my own thoughts and how to explain them. Thank you for the in-depth comments.

  18. Jason said: There are places in the UK you simply would not visit due to racial segregation.

    No, Jason, there aren’t.

    Apart from the fact that I think you’re making an unfounded assumption about my race, I’ve lived in the UK for many years. I’ve been to Bradford, Leeds, Liverpool (I lived there), Brixton, Glasgow and Milton Keynes along with dozens of other cities. Some of these places have large populations of particular ethnic groups. In some cases English isn’t the dominant language spoken in the streets (also true for Aberystwyth). I had no trouble in any of those places, and found them interesting and vibrant communities (well, not Milton Keynes). I treated people of all backgrounds in each of these places with courtesy and respect and received nothing but the same in return. The same is true of Lakemba which I visit occasionally to buy middle Eastern cooking ingredients, and Ashfield where I live.

    Please don’t assume I share your prejudices.

  19. Quatrefoil I am not prejudiced. Nice try. I simply do not believe in segregation.

    Multiculturalism is more than a pleasant shopping experience. I’m more refereeing to functionally integrating people into a larger society so that future and current generations don’t feel despondent from living in marginalized communities.

    Immigration is more than just giving citizenship. It’s about having the resources to support and integrate. Perhaps we should temporarily halt immigration altogether until every aboriginal child has adequate healthcare, education and clean water, and not treated like third class citizens. Until then (perhaps) we have no capacity to support immigrants, and no right.

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