The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Sunday, September 23, 2007



Readers considering migrating to Australia take note: If you can somersault through all the hoops regarding character, health, background, qualifications and intent you’ll face another hurdle: A citizenship test.

Better start now by reading up on Aussie history, politics, culture and football. If you don’t understand that this secular country was founded on Judaeo-Christian values, and that cricket is an arcane sport and not an insect, you could miss out.

There’ll be 20 questions randomly drawn from a list of 200. There won’t be a separate English language test, according to Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews. No need – candidates will need a high level of English just to wrap their minds around the questions. Example:

Australia’s political system is a …
1) Parliamentary democracy
2) Monarchy
3) Dictatorship
4) Socialist state

With Queen Elizabeth’s image on the currency and the Union Jack prominent in the Australian flag, images that flummox most new arrivals, answer 2 seems reasonable. And as all state governments are run by the Labor party, 4 also has merit. Sport dictates almost everything so 3 could give a pass though the correct answer is 1.

Failure to know the name of the nation’s first prime minister (a question which floors the average native born) could mean you’ll bypass a country where the economy is in overdrive, jobs are for the picking and choosing, wages are among the top in the OECD countries and health and welfare benefits ranked with the most generous in the world.

People seeking citizenship in the US, Canada and Britain apparently have to pass such tests but this is the first time the idea has migrated Down Under. Though not as far as New Zealand; the contrary Kiwis have given the notion the flick.

The author is the Australian government which will be facing an election later this year. This has led cynics to claim it’s another ploy to retain the conservative Liberal-National coalition that’s held power since 1996.

The fear factor is a powerful driver in Australian politics. In the 19th century anti-Chinese riots on the goldfields led to the notorious White Australian migration policy that didn’t officially die till the 1970s.

In the 2001 election the coalition led by veteran John Howard swept back to power riding on a people smuggling scare, with allegations that some Middle Eastern asylum seekers sailing from Indonesia were willing to throw their babies overboard to win sympathy for their plight.

The allegation was later found to be untrue, but by then the easily spooked electorate had plumped for a party determined, as Howard famously said, “(to) decide who comes here and the circumstances in which they come.”

The boat people now seldom set sail from Indonesia, but xenophobia is still buoyant, or to be precise, Islamophobia.

Arab applicants for permanent residency (PR) visas will be asked more questions than other ethnic groups; this appears to be a clear breech of the long standing non-discriminatory policy of migrant selection.

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Australia’s peak Muslim authority, is one of many groups that has called for a review.

If these government responses are part of a ‘we’re-tougher-than-you’ campaign to win re-election they may have boomeranged. Although Andrews says the citizenship test is reasonable and supported (according to government surveys) by 60 per cent of the electorate, they’ve been widely ridiculed.

Example: What’s the Australian national dish?

1) A meat pie?
2) A meat pie with a can of beer?
3) A meat pie with tomato sauce and a can of beer?
4) A Chinese takeaway?

Australians tend to take a relaxed response to nationalism; Australia Day (26 January) is a good time to lie on the beach, not stand to attention. Flag wavers and jingoism are seen as suspect, so attempts to formalize national pride tend to get ‘rubbished’ as Australians say.

Former national newspaper editor Frank Devine commented: “I have deep misgivings about moves towards codifying Australian values in order to test intending immigrants … They are a masquerade, one thing pretending to be another, security precautions against the spread of Islamic radicalism that are hoopla-ed as a means of elevating Australia’s civic consciousness.”

So where does this leave the potential migrant? Australia is a magnet for workers from Asia. To cope with the booming economy, fuelled by the resource industry feeding famished Chinese steel mills, hundreds of overseas workers are entering the country every week.

Many are tradespeople, even laborers in meat works doing the jobs Aussies reject. There are at least 500 categories of work that can’t be filled by locals, with health professionals in strong demand

If they stay for four years, keep out of trouble and still have work they can apply for PR and citizenship, and will then have to face the test.

But as Devine commented: “We go through this process to get a driving licence. However knowing the road rules doesn’t guarantee we’ll be good drivers.”

(First published in The Sunday Post 23 September 2007)


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