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Testing times: how Australian are you?

By Lyn Allison - posted Friday, 5 October 2007

The PM’s new citizenship test, introduced this week, makes me cringe.

There is no reason why we suddenly need to test people. It won’t stop bad characters becoming citizens - they will be no more or less able to memorise the answers than the good ones.

In fact those who memorise the 46-page booklet and pass the test will probably know much more about our history than dinkum Aussies, even though in many cases the values and history on which the test is based are both dodgy and obscure.


They will learn the words of our national anthem, that the golden wattle is our floral emblem, our national gemstone the opal, our first Prime Minister Edmund Barton and the names of Australia’s ten Nobel Laureates and our 17 world heritage sites. They will know that South Australia has 13 wine-growing regions, the Indigenous word “Canberra” means “meeting place”, Western Australia is about the same size as Western Europe and so on.

But a lot has been left out in this history. National hero Phar Lap was actually a New Zealand horse and Simpson, if not his donkey, was British. The history of political parties excludes the 30-year-old Democrats, there’s a lot about Diggers and the ANZAC legend but Vietnam is mentioned only in passing and Iraq not at all. Tampa is overlooked, as is climate change, though we learn that Tasmania is our coldest state.

Just to read the booklet, citizens will have to master English - no mean feat in two years for refugees from non-English-speaking countries with limited access to classes.

If they are lucky enough to be in work, they will be paying taxes but have no right to vote. This offends against one of the values they are supposed to agree with - the importance of the parliamentary democracy.

If they have been locked away for years in a detention centre they will wonder why the great Australian value of freedom of the individual did not apply to them and their children.

The history is masculine, conservative and heavily focused on war. Women get a few mentions - three sportswomen, the women first elected to parliament, Dame Nellie Melba and the first female pilot, Nancy Bird Walton, but for the most part it’s about mateship, explorers and soldiers.


The value of equality of men and women seems a bit hollow with men still dominating three to one in the parliament and even more in the boardrooms.

You must answer 12 of the 20 questions correctly and get all three questions on citizenship right. It will be necessary to know that it is a responsibility of every Australian citizen to join with Australians to defend Australia and its way of life, should the need arise. That may be a good old-fashioned test of patriotism but the idea of every man and woman being conscripted to take up arms to defend our shores is a bit unrealistic in this age of terrorism and ballistic missiles.

For a government that took us to war against Iraq and has just committed to $40 billion worth of war-fighting equipment, the greatest hypocrisy is the “peacefulness” value.

The only conclusion possible is that this new system is meant to tap into deep resentment held by a few people who think immigrants don’t deserve the benefits of living in our wonderful country unless they are prepared to be just like us.

If Australia is really the land of opportunity, home of the “fair go”, then surely we don’t need this useless and discriminatory citizenship test that flies in the face of the very values it claims we uphold.

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About the Author

Lyn Allison is a patron of the Peace Organisation of Australia and was leader of the Australian Democrats from 2004 to 2008.

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