We can’t safeguard Aussie values through a citizenship test
IF it looks too good to be true, it probably is. This is what springs to mind when considering Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s hard sell when it comes to the citizenship.
Changing the citizenship test has been pitched as the answer to all our national security problems. A protectionism panacea, it will ensure anyone who passes will be chock full of true blue Aussie values and will, fair dinkum, weed out those who need to, as the bogan bumper sticker so eloquently puts it, “like it or leave it”.
Anyone who fails to pass muster on telling questions about their desired new home country will not be able to call Australia home. New questions are tipped to be along the lines of “can you strike your spouse in the privacy of your home?” and “under what circumstances is it appropriate to prohibit girls from education?”
Sounds like a great filtering device, except it isn’t.
If someone is at the point of applying for citizenship, Australia is already their home and has been for years.
The citizenship test is but the last hurdle in a seemingly endless naturalization process.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe the hoops one must jump through along the way are entirely justified. But I also consider that putting all your border control eggs in the citizenship test basket is just ill-conceived.
As a new citizen here I am intimately aware of how difficult, expensive and time-consuming it is to become an Aussie. I’m not complaining. I consider my citizenship to be an enormous privilege and I gladly took on the arduous process of achieving it.
Having arrived nine years ago from Ireland it seems as though I have been filling out forms forever: application for a working holiday visa; application for a second working holiday visa; application for employer nominated residency; application for my partner’s temporary residency; application for my partner’s permanent residency; four years as a resident before applying for citizenship; citizenship test, then citizenship ceremony.
I finally became a citizen in 2014 and am enormously grateful for that.
Included in all those applications were exhaustive ways in which I had to prove my eligibility — my suitability — to stay here.
Police checks for here and overseas, medical checks, character references from non-related citizens, proof of income, proof of community activities and engagement, proof of ability to speak English, proof of every address I have ever held, details on every close relative, intimate details about my relationship, my way of life, my future plans, my religion. Nothing was left out and rightly so.
To be honest, preparing for the citizenship test at the end of all that was the most straightforward of the tasks the Immigration Department set for me.
So while I believe my understanding of the process to be quite good, what I can’t grasp is the idea that tweaking the questions on what I considered to be the final rubber stamping of Aussie-ness will keep out the “baddies”.
In fact, if any undesirables remain by the time they are sitting that test we are in a lot more trouble than anyone thinks and the entire system needs tweaking, not just this fairly straightforward multiple choice test.
Also, failing a citizenship test does not result in expulsion from the country. The failed applicant is still a resident, but they can’t vote or hold an Aussie passport.
And, as for making the English test more difficult, well, first, that is part of the residency process, not citizenship and, second, I have English-only speaking friends who have failed it which would suggest it is already suitably stringent.
Australian citizenship is a precious gift that warrants zealous protection, I just hope Mr. Dutton has more ways of doing that than selling the line that we can safeguard Australian values through a test.
We are facing turbulent times and unprecedented threats that warrant honest discussion and authentic, workable deterrents, not misleading rhetoric about citizenship.