The federal government has leaked to a newspaper a sample of the questions they are allegedly planning to put on their new citizenship test. *(see clarification at end of this post)
One of the lesser noticed measures in the Budget was the announcement that an extra $123 million will be spent implementing and administering the new citizenship test, including over $16 million for Orwellian sounding “Australian values statements” and “Australian way of life booklets”. According to the Minister, “permanent and long-term temporary visa applicants will be required to sign a statement that acknowledges they will respect the Australian way of life and abide by Australian laws, before a visa will be granted.” (which sounds not dissimilar to a suggestion made last year by former Labor Leader Kim Beazley, which he was rightly pilloried for). Quite why it costs $10 million to get people to sign a statement as part of a visa application is not made clear. Maybe they need to pay Pauline Hanson to draft the wording.
I’ve written before about the citizenship test. At best, I think it will be a relatively harmless waste of money creating some extra red tape while the government tries to win some votes appealing to jingoistic nationalism. The risk is that it will feed a false and divisive perception that there is currently some significant problem with migrants not fitting in to Australian society.
The number of people receiving long-term residency rights in Australia each year is now in the hundreds of thousands, and still growing. If we’re actually serious about improving the integration of new arrivals, we’d be putting more money into settlement and support services, and broadening the number of people who are entitled to access them, instead of wasting money on ineffective distractions like a citizenship test.
You can read the sample questions leaked to the Herald Sun at this link. Most of them are fairly innocuous, although no doubt many Australian born people would get more than a few of them wrong. The big dog whistle question is number 15. No doubt the government is hoping there will be some outrage expressed about it so the resulting controversy can push the desired political buttons amongst their target constituency.
Question 15: Australia’s values are based on the …
a. Teachings of the Koran
b. The Judaeo-Christian tradition
(the ‘correct’ answer is B).
It would not be unreasonable to interpret this question as implying that the (undefined) “Judaeo-Christian tradition” reflects (undefined) Australian values, and that Islam, Catholicism and Securalism do not reflect Australian values (or might even be – gasp – UnAustralian).
However, despite being raised a Catholic, I don’t interpret the question this way – I interpret it as showing that our government is worn out and has no substantial vision for Australia at all, so it has to resort to wasting our money on shallow jingostic symbolism in a lame effort to grab a few votes.
ELSEWHERE: Many other Australian bloggers have commented on this, with some interesting comment threads on some of the posts. Here’s a sample: Irfan Yusuf, John Quiggin, Andrew Norton, Catallaxy, Club Troppo, Larvatus Prodeo.
UPDATE (22/5): There were comments raised in posts on some of the other sites linked to above suggesting the questions did not come from the government and were made up by the relevant media outlet. I must say I thought the statement in the original media story that the “sample questions were devised by the federal government” was fairly unequivocal, but given some of the doubts raised in these comments, I asked as clear-cut a question as possible of the head of the Immigration Department and the Minister representing the government at the Senate Estimates Committee hearing. The response was a flat denial that the questions came from the government and a clear statement that the news report was wrong in saying the questions “were devised by the federal government. So whilst I still think the citizenship test is unnecessary and a waste of $123 million, I have to retract my criticism of the government about the content and intent behind the questions, seeing they didn’t devise them.