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Citizenship test & affirmation of values

Prime Minister Howard’s citizenship test requiring those seeking citizenship to demonstrate an understanding of English and to pass a test on Australian history, culture and values is a sensible way of promoting integration and of signaling to those electing to become Australians that our society is not an empty slate – a cultural void without history – that is always enriched by having greater cultural diversity. It isn’t – some forms of diversity and some cultural values we should not accept.

Australia is a remarkable country with high living standards, a soundly-functioning democracy, high levels of gender equality and low levels of religious and political conflict. These are not negligible achievements and need to be appreciated by migrants coming from cultures without such achievements. Moreover, Australia does have a history of white settlement that has played an important role in conditioning the national character. Australia’s aboriginal history, extending back 40,000 years or more, is one of the oldest on earth and needs to be appreciated by all those who live here.

Likewise the need to confirm a signed agreement to adhere to the Australian way of life and to Australian values is a useful way of signaling to migrants that Australian residents do place value on our cultural successes. People who come from cultures that are thousands of years old but who still see women as pieces of meat and those who see it as reasonable to kill women seeking to gain an education or to kill those who seek to practice their own religion are not welcome here whatever the cultural ‘enrichment’ they can transfer. Nor do we want migrants in Australia who are prepared to use violence to thwart Australian government policies, including our foreign policies.

Labor’s immigration spokesperson, Tony Bourke, almost predictably described the proposed test (without having seen it) as a ‘trivia night’ test. Like other Labor politicians (and those on the left) he apparently sees Australian history and culture as a blank slate and hence as ‘trivia’.

The citizenship test and the signed affirmation can be criticized – it will not screen out the religious nuts and fanatics who can deceive their way around the test and affirmation – but it will signal to them the Australian intent to affirm certain values.

There is the legitimate claim that some useful people will not seek citizenship because of the test. This is partly true because citizenship in many cases – for example with respect to British citizens living in Australia – does not increase advantage over simple residency. This is another policy failure that needs to be addressed. But the citizenship test and the affirmation fill an important gap in our citizenship procedures.

25 comments to Citizenship test & affirmation of values

  • civitas

    Harry, I agree with your comments here and feel much the same about citizenship in the US. My only area of concern is the requirement that aspiring citizens speak English. Is that really a necessary component of citizenship? Wouldn’t accepting the values and signing to signal acceptance of the expectation that Australian values are to be respected be adequate? Lots of Americans have become successful citizens who probably couldn’t pass an English test.

  • rabee

    You’ve set up a straw-man argument Harry.

    You’ll do well refuting actual positions of those who advocate a non-discriminatory immigration policy, rather than misrepresenting their positions refuting these imaginary positions and pretending that you have refuted their actual positions.

  • Anonymous

    Dirty Harry — Shock Jock Academic.

    It is completely obvious that Howards requirement is pure politics, Harry, and either you cannot see this, or you just aint thinking that well today.

    He wants to have a test after four years in the country that is way, way, way (way!) less rigourous than the screening that emmigrants must undergo in the first place. How will the test screen an emmigrant who wants to do us harm, or doesn’t care to uphold Australian values (whatever they are)? (Dont forget: They will have already signed and spoken a pledge to the Counntry)

    Will they say

    “Oh, golly, I didn’t realize that Australia has these values, I guess I will change my entire plan and not emmigrate here after all”

    Go outside, take a deep breath, and you can smell the political stench — even from Melbourne.

  • conrad

    I like the Dutch test better, and I think it is much more useful, since it at least helps screen people likely to break the law and stops people just ticking a box.

    It sounds funny and crazy when you first look at it, but I think deliberate visual images of what you are likely to see (as you would in many Australian cities and beahes), is really a much stronger and much more useful test than some set of politically correct citizenship values. It shows people what is legal and what you have to accept, even if you don’t happen to like it.

    If they only had beer and a barbeque with their citizen test as well, I think I’d move their tommorow.

  • Yobbo

    I award this post no points, and may god have mercy on its soul.

  • hc

    Civitas, I thinking speaking the national language is a very important way of improving communication and reducing misunderstandings.

    Rabee, I don’t know what you are talking about and not sure you understand either. Your comment is willfully obscure. This is a discussion of citizenship tests of the type conducted in the US and Britain. I am suggesting it is a good idea as a way of signalling rthat we are proud of our national culture.

    Anonymous, I mentioned that those seeking to evade the test can do so – I am suggesting it signals that we do not treat our culture as a void.

    Yobbo, A noise – nothing else. A post does not have a soul.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if a test of Australian history would include how in 2001 the Howard government and the media lapdogs who do their bidding manufactured the “children overboard affair” a month before an election for the purpose of turning the population into raving fundamentalist xenophobes. Or perhaps the test might include how at school we inculcated with enthusiasm how the Anzacs were bravely slaughtered by the Ottomans in WW1, of which a significant proportion were in fact child soldiers and who were coerced to fight for a rapacious imperial power attempting to invade a foreign territory. When enemy countries do this we condemn it, claiming they have an underdeveloped sense of morality, but when we do it, we celebrate it!

    Or perhaps by gender equality you mean the degree to which female year 12 students’ TES’s exceed their male counterparts. In 1981 they were on par, by 1991 females exceeded males by just over 5%. By 1996 this had increased to 19.5% (source, Boys: Getting it right Standing Committee on Education and Training p19).
    Of course we are still taught at university that females are systematically excluded from participating equally in education despite the glaring contradictions.

    Or perhaps this test might also include how the lapdogs in media decide probability of guilt of convicted drug smugglers in far away lands on the basis of age and gender. When Australian males are convicted, often to death, the media response has largely been to throw away the key. However, as I’m sure everyone knows, when young and so called “beautiful” white Australia girls are convicted, the response by the media and then the population at large is quite different. She is innocent simply by virtue of who she is and the country that prosecuted her is conceived as complicit.

    Of course none of these things would be included in a test of Australia history and values. Simply because only self serving history and values constitute a legitimate system of thought and obedience to authority despite a litany of contradictions. This test seems like just another attempt by the Howard government to pit ‘us’ and ‘them’ but sadly if the past is anything to go by, it’s probably a winner.

  • derrida derider

    I agree with Yobbo for once, harry. This is the poorest post you’ve done in a long while.

    the whole thing’s just another shot in the culture wars by the government. I’m actually less cynical about Howard’s motives in this than anonymous – I don’t think its simple populism, but rather an attempt to impose his personal values on other people.

    As yobbo has pointed out elsewhere, it’s a move that could easily ricochet on to its creators in the hands of a future PM like Keating. And your distortion of Bourke’s comment is unworthy of you. I shouldn’t have to point out that just because he described the *test* as a trivia test does not imply that he thinks Australin culture (whatever that is) is trivial.

  • conrad

    Apart from God having mercy, May God Save the Queen also, the Australian Head of State, although somehow I’d be surprised if that makes the test.

    More seriously, all this stuff about speaking English is completely hypocritical. I’m sure the proportion of Australian emigrants living in some non-English speaking countries that don’t speak the native language is smaller than the proportion of immigrants in Australia that don’t speak English.

    Take you as an example HC — Did you learn to speak Thai when you lived there (if I’m correct in believing you did)? Do you think you should have stopped living there if you didn’t, and do you think Thailand would benefit from you if you did live their, even if you didn’t speak Thai?

  • Yobbo

    Thailand is a perfect example. You could never fit in there without speaking the language and would always be considered an outsider.

    I’m pretty sure Harry can speak at least some Thai.

    However, temporary foreign postings like Harry had are different than permanent immigration.

    There’s no concern with having foreign experts coming over and filling their expert niche if they can do that without speaking the language. That’s more difficult if you are say, a Japanese robotics expert working in Australia (because most of your work colleagues would not speak Japanese), but a fair bit easier if you are an English speaking finance expert working in Thailand (because most of your colleagues will be able to speak English).

    But this is already dealt with under our legislation. Foreign workers of this type come here under work visas, not immigrant visas. The proposed legislation will have no effect on that.

  • Anonymous

    Harry: Again, why are you taking Howard’s political stunt so seriously? Does Howard fund this blog??

  • conrad

    Yobbo,

    next time you are in HK, you should go to Disco Bay. What you will see there are a whole lot of rich white people, many of whom have retired there that don’t speak a word of Cantonese. This is entirely advantageous for HK, because they have lots of money, fit in (i.e., don’t generally do anything illegal or obnoxious), and the Chinese people like to live close to them so their kids can learn English playing with them(and the white kids learn to study hard etc.).

    A very similar pattern emerges in Sydney & Melbourne (at least), where large groups of East Asians (and various other assorted smart harmless others) live (many of whom speak cruddy English). Inevitibaly, large groups of them send their kids to public schools, which then suddenly become good (Epping boys high in Sydney, and from recent papers, Glen Waverley High — which I can assure you was only average 20 years ago). The smart white parents who don’t have money for private schools then take their children from white-trash R’Us public schools and try and get in to those schools, since then their children do better since they don’t have to put up with white trash R us children and their white trash R us parents. This is so common there is now a premimium on real-estate close to these schools.

    So we have a clear cut case of two groups that don’t speak the native language being beneficial. THis suggest that whilst it might be nice to speak English, it clearly shouldn’t be a prerequisite to live in a country.

  • hc

    Conrad, On Thailand. In fact I did learn Thai but that was no requirement. It would be almost impossible for me to gain Thai citizenship even if I had sought this.

    Chidori, I am in favour of active involvement in selecting citizens. I do not believe this is just politics and find it amazing that nationals of any country should not have an interest in entry requirements. Open door – no way. I favour admission requirements.

  • hc

    Chidori, No-one could claim that Australian history is something that throws positive light only on our past. White Australia’s past and current treatment of its aboriginals is enough to confirm this. But are you suggesting that those settling in Australia as citizens should have no view of our past?

  • hc

    DD, Why do you say ‘Australian culture – (whatever that is)’?

    I stick with my assessment of Bourke. He has no idea what the test would include – except that it tests Australian history – but describes it nonetheless as a ‘trivia test’.

    Why does he make this contemptible claim?

    And why should you say this is an instance of culture wars and John Howards attempt to impose his values? How do you know?

  • Anonymous

    A commonly held doctrine is that we tend to flagellate ourselves about various aspects of our policies, and actions that we disapprove of. Of course the reality is rather different.

    The prevailing pattern is one of indignant outrage over enemy crimes with much self-congratulatory appeal to high principle, combined with a remarkable ability “not to see” in the case of crimes where we bear responsibility. In the West, there is ample literature, much of it fraudulent, scornfully denouncing apologists of third world victims of military interventions but little about the behaviour that is the norm: silence and apologetics about the crimes of one’s own state and its clients, when a willingness simply to face the facts might make substantial difference in limiting or terminating these abuses.

  • jack

    Clearly, once those kind of people are in the country it’s hard to get them out unless they rape and pillage or shoot up and steal handbags. So giving them a test after they have been here for a while is pointless. Better would be a dictation test, say in ah, Gaelic.

  • hc

    Chidori, I think you mistake things. There is substantial recognition of failed Australian domestic policies toward aboriginals (Head of Treasury, Ken Henry made the most recent very eloguent statement on this) and widespread opposition to our intervention in Iraq.

    Jack, the criminal justice system deals with crime from all. The test won’t exclude criminals or those with medieval attitudes but it will signal that we are serious about asserting our culture and history and, indeed, that we have such.

    You would presumably prefer no signalling and no indication that we have any decent values that we seek to assert at all.

  • jack

    You presume right, but you beg the question. I guess you’re geeing me up, right?

    He, he, I’m awake to your tricks, you old devil. The phrase “decent values” and the pronoun “we” are loaded. What is decent to you may be indecent to me. So we have a problem. Or should say, I have a problem because you are as one with the prime minister on values. Am I right? Then how can then we be “we”?

    Second point. A society’s values are not transmitted by a political kite flown by a government warming up for an election. Which brings us to this “signalling” you mention. Signalling to whom, precisely? To the prospective citizens, who may not be able to read English? Prospective migrants, ditto? How would they read these signals if their English is rudimentary or non-existent?

    Or does “signalling” refer to dogwhistling closet Hansonites, whom it rankles that wogs think they have the same rights as they do?

    The proposed English test is as cruelly absurd as the “dictation test” in Australia of the 1930s, implemented to keep out nonwhites and Jews.

    We have many migrants who are not only illiterate in English but also in their native tongue. They’d have no hope of passing Howard’s test. They are the people who clean up the shit from the incontinent in nursing homes, assemble cars, fry late night chips and kebabs, pluck and eviscerate chickens, come in and clean up your house, and generally do the myriad of dirty, inconvenient jobs for crap money that wouldn’t tempt someone who speaks good English and is au fait with our history.

    This dreadful and cynical ploy to suck out some votes from bigots in our electorate would disqualify those people from the rights of citizenship, such as they are.

    On the other hand, if the signalling is directed at the outside world… whoa, Harry, can you see what could happen? We could lose the source of our cheap labour once this gets out.

    Some of my sons’ friends parents have very poor English. They are Korean and Chinese. They work long hours to put their kids through school and are model citizens in every other respect. But they’d flunk miserably in Howard’s English and history tests.

    PS. Don’t get me started on our history, Harry, or I may have to slip on the black arm band.

  • hc

    Jack, Oh so no-one can characterise decent values. I can say what they are not – not the values of Hezbollah, the Taliban or the cat-meat mufti.

    By ‘we’ I mean ‘most preexisting Australian residents’.

    But I like your dignified leftwing rationale for having no English or values requirements at all – those who would have been rejected can clean up the shit. Your view are exactly those of those narrow-minded economists who see immigeation purely as an economic issue. As an economist who has worked on the economics I don’t accept this perspectrive at all.

    The more dignified economic rationale runs as follows. Take the highly-skilled since we get skill externalities from them and take the unskilled since we get big ‘gains-from-trade’ from that lot simply because they have completely different resource endowments.

  • jack

    Yes, you can say what those values are not. But the question is what these values are, which you don’t.

    I am not surprised. “Decent values” are such a rubbery concept that I made the remark to the effect that I doubted whether I shared all of your values. And if I didn’t then I wouldn’t be entitled to a citizenship if I were applying for one. And if you were a politician I wouldn’t be able to vote against you. That’s a neat way of entrenching a set of values, I must say.

    My point is that in your original post, you advocate a status of unAustralianness, hitherto just a form of abuse that now becomes – in the hands of unscrupulous politicians – a method of social control for creating second-class, non-citizens.

    So here is the scenario: the resident but as yet uncitizened newcomers are in the country but they have failed the test. So they remain, in Orwellian terms, non-persons unable to take part in the political life although they pay taxes etc. etc.

    To make your argument you were obliged to misrepresent my position. Let me simply restate the argument in toto:

    There are people, who are already here, in Australia, working, but have poor or non-existent English.

    Such a class of people has been here for at least a century and helped Australia to achieve its economic well-being through cutting cane, working in factories, as fruitpickers, etc. plus the occupations I have already mentioned. They have been Kanakas, Chinese, Greeks, Italians, Balts and people of Middle Eastern appearance. Their choice of employment has been and remains severely limited because of this non-English-speaking handicap. Therefore they do menial and unpleasant work.

    The Howard English test will not stop them coming into the country, because Howard’s industrialist and pastoralist backers will not allow it. The test will not prevent them taking those jobs, but it will take away from them certain rights.

    This is a libertarian argument not a left-wing one.

    I further said, as an aside (it wasn’t the main thrust of my argument) that once people find out that we have a system whereby we deny new settlers citizens’ rights even though they pay taxes and work hard and pull their weight, then Australia’s good name as the land of fair go will be traduced somewhat.

  • derrida derider

    Harry, read again what you wrote. Bourke described the test, rightly or wrongly, as ‘a trivia test’. It does not follow that he “sees Australian history and culture as a blank slate and hence as ‘trivia’”. To spell it out, I can create a trivia test about economics, especially if I had a motive to do so, but it doesn’t follow that I think economics is trivia. rabee’s comment about your creating straw men is accurate.

    And all the ‘whatever that is’ comment indicated is that I think the notion of what Australian culture is is contested. That doesn’t make me a pomo leftist BTW – I’m of the school that thinks terms like ‘culture’ invite abuse (Goering had it right in that famous quote), not least by postmodernists. And look at my pseudonym.

    As for the John Howard comment, my imputed motive is more creditable than the one being imputed to him by most people – I think his narrowmindedness on this issue is all too sincere.

  • Yeura Naasoul

    You don’t have much of a repsonse to Anonymous comment that this is just Johnny Politics you’ve been sucked into!!

  • Anonymous

    Iam not an intellectual but I am not without a “heart”. The Aged Care Services are in dire straits, but the disgusting words about cleaning up shit in relation to incontinence is the most demeaning comment I have heard in a long time. Some cultures actually believe it is an honour to care for the aged and infirn. Exactly how does the “shit” actually appear? I would say from a living person, just like youself. I am aware of the situation where people from non English speaking cultures are working in Aged Care. There are many problems, with the worker and also the residents but that issue could be discussed ad infinitum.

  • hc

    Anonymous, I think you do have a heart and the point is well taken. It wasn’t my comment but yes it was inappropriate.

    Incontinence is not something to be jojed about and neither should old people be treated with disrespect – even to make a point in as political argument.