Citizenship Test

In opinion on December 14, 2006 by karan

John Howard wants to make a test for English and “Australian history and culture” before you get your citizenship. It’s supposed to be about only making citizens of those people who actually would “fit in”.  It looks more like a White Australia policy by stealth to me.

After World War II, Australia let in migrants from all over Europe, and while they were probably more ‘olive’ than ‘white’, they still fit in the old English sense of ‘white’, i.e. Europeans. It wasn’t until the late 60s and 70s that Asian migration started in any significant numbers. In the early 90s, there was a celebration of multiculturalism and the diversity of the Australian population, something I grew up with and believe in strongly.

If John Howard’s citizenship test is applied, the migration that made Australia one of the most diverse nations in the world will be effectively relegated to second-class members of society, not even citizens. Yes, the ability to speak, or at least understand, English is a reasonable requirement of Australia. But to require it in a formal condition such as a test, and to attach questions of history and culture to it as well, is to make it an overly onerous restriction. Ideally, yes, all citizens would pass such a test, but here’s my bone of contention: chances are more than half of the “born” citizens would also fail the same test. And you’d have to apply it retroactively to be fair.

So what if we apply it retroactively? All those European migrants who came here on a wing and a prayer with barely a broken word of English to their vocabulary would never have made it here. All that post-war prosperity, gone. All those Vietnam war refugees would remain refugees, probably to be bundled up and passed back to Vietnam after an “appropriate” period of time. All that diversity, gone.

Australia would have been a very different nation with Howard’s citizenship test. If he manages to put in something so apparently innocuous, he wins a victory for the ultra conservatives, for the White Australia policy we rejected so long ago. Let diversity and multiculturalism reign, because that is the only antidote to wars and hatred.


2 Responses to “Citizenship Test”

  1. So they have no such test already?

    I know the U.S. citizenship test includes some historical questions (but I heard they’re quite easy)… hmm. Well, the intentions behind U.S. imigration limitations have been no secret over the past century…

    Does Australia have a flood of underappreciated and often illegal immigrants similar to that of the U.S.’s Mexicans? I know for Iran it’s Afghanistan, and that Dubai has it bad… for Britains it’s everywhere (judging by that one movie: Dirty Pretty Things). Is this a response to that?

  2. no, there’s no such test at the moment. Citizenship applications require an interview, and have conditions such as the amount of time you’ve lived here, but generally are fairly straightforward.

    This is mostly being called for by right-wing types who think that middle eastern immigrants are causing problems by being “different”. What they fail to grasp, I’d suggest, is that most of the middle-eastern “immigrants” that they have a problem with already have citizenship, defeating the purpose of this entirely…

    Australia doesn’t have that flood of immigrants, illegal or un(der)appreciated, because of significantly strengthened laws relating to illegal immigrants which saw most detained in prisons-by-proxy for nearly 5 years “while claims were processed”. This proposal is mostly grand-standing by the government to ensure their claim on the rednecks of the electorate in the run up to the election later this year…

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