The Citizenship tests and voting rights

A key issue with the new language and ‘values’ citizenship tests, which probably won’t be able to be legislated for, is how rigidly and ruthlessly the tests are applied. We have already seen the monumental injustices that happened when government zealotry on migration infected the culture of the Department responsible for administering the government’s migration laws and policies.

If the new citizenship test is applied in the same way, there will be serious social division caused. Of course, we already have a basic English requirement for citizenship, which contains reasonable exceptions based on factors like age. I haven’t seen evidence that this doesn’t work adequately at the moment, so if the new language test is little different and it’s administered with the same reasonable approach, there may be little practical impact, other than the negative shift in social attitudes towards migrants that can occur when government play on myths and fears about them.

However, there is one other consequence of the worst case scenario which is worth mentioning. You have to be an Australian citizen to be able to get on the electoral roll and vote*. Structuring or administering tests in a way which makes it harder for certain groups of permanent residents to become citizens could be used as way to keep people seen as politically unfavourable to the government (or a future government) from getting on the roll.

I must say I never would have given much thought to this aspect, except perhaps in an academic sense, until the current government started taking very deliberate steps down the US path of blatantly rorting the electoral laws for their own benefit. Earlier this year, changes to the electoral law were pushed through the Senate which have the effect of:
• Closing the rolls the day the election is called, which will means tens of thousands of, mostly younger and more transient people, being unable to update their details and thus being disenfranchised;
• Preventing all prisoners from voting;
• Making it harder for Indigenous people to get on the roll, and easier to take them off (of course, indigenous people are also over-represented in jails)
• Allow much larger anonymous donations to political parties to be made

A short, well researched and easy to read book on the impact of these actions, called “Limiting Democracy” by Brian Coster and Colin Hughes, Australia’s first Electoral Commissioner, has just been released. Click here to read a longish review of the book.

These aren’t the only things that have ever been done to the electoral laws by a political party for their own advanatage. Queensland of course had its infamous gerrymander and malapportionment – initiated by the Labor Party and refined by the Country/National Party. A recent law brought in by the Beattie government requiring local government Councillors to resign before they can contest state elections was clearly designed to inconvenience the non-Labor parties. However, our nation has been blessedly free of such rorting of democracy at federal level since the introduction of the Australian Electoral Commission, combined of course with the protection that no party had control of the Senate.

Greater resources and technology makes it much easier these days for the big political parties to track people and to ascertain when they don’t live at their enrolled address. It is now possible for ‘roll cleansing’ efforts to have some impact on electoral outcomes. Making it that bit harder for certain groups of people or individuals to get on the roll in the first place by becoming a citizen can be another extension of this. It also stops a person being able to run for election to public office too. I dislike sounding like a conspiracy theorist, but when there is such a clear record of public administration, public funds and laws being blatantly distorted for partisan electoral benefit, then it is appropriate to point them out.

*There is an exception to the requirement that only Australian citizens have voting rights. Under Section 93 of the Electoral Act, British Subjects with permanent residence in Australia who were on the roll prior to 1984 are also eligible to vote – indeed legally it is compulsory for them to enrol and vote, even if they let their enrolment lapse. I don’t know how many people this now applies to, but in the context of the debate about citizenship rights and responsibilities, it is worth debating whether this exemption should stil apply.

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18 Comments

  1. When John Howard said he admires much about America he wasn’t kidding.

    Still, it’s good to see (hear) triple j doing their Rock Enrol thing again.

  2. The horse has bolted.. it’s probably too late for any measures to repair the damage.

    Just saying you agree with certain values doesn’t make it so.

  3. Andrew Bartlett:
    Even though I think this “values-and-English” stunt is merely a cynical and impractical vote-catcher [if we do have an election, of course] ….. you’re not going to like my suggestions ……

    [1] Rigorous re-education of everyone teaching English to migrants. Satisfying the survival-level day-to-day real-world needs of migrants trying to function in their new country must take precedence over teachers displaying cleverness in Eng, Lit. or any other nonsense.

    [2] Compulsory FREE English language training for all migrants. Absolute minimum of 120 hours of class contact time – with additional tutorials for those assessed as needing them. Who pays for lt all? Not the taxpayers! We’ve been hammered too much already. No, the business community must pay ….. starting with those companies that rorted the Training Guarantee over a decade ago (it’s payback time).

    [3] Separate classes for men and women – with mandatory imprisonment for one month for any man who tries to stop his wife or daughter learning English.

    [4] Since business migrants are, in my experience, the worst offenders when it comes to despising Australian values and treating native-born Australians like mongrel dogs and since they are the ones least likely to be chided for doing so by the present government (in contrast to the government’s hysteria over religion); let’s have special laws for business migrants. Where business migrants have abused and robbed Australian workers and customers (whether native-born or migrant) and shown their complete disregard for Australian values, they should be stripped of their citizenship or residency status, their money, their property and other assets, their passport …. put on an aircraft under guard and sent back in disgrace to wherever they came from ….. and their place taken by a deserving family who would eventually become fair-dinkum Aussies..

  4. Graham – underneath that caring and benign exterior lies a racist anglocentric demon! I wouldn’t have belived it.

    Also point 2 – make buisness pay, not the taxpayers is obviouskly writtne in ignoracne of how buysiness works. Whichever way, the taxpayer and / or the consumer will pay thorugh accoutning treatemtn of that sort of expenditure. Theres only one supply of mopney

  5. ((My comment should have been on a previous page …. that’s what comes of careless mouse-clicks)).

    Ken:
    Not exactly.

    [1] Surely you don’t really believe that practical constructive criticism of a system that has manifestly failed both migrants and native-born alike can be called “Racist”, do you?

    And “anglocentric demon”? Ha-ha-ha-ha … No way!

  6. Ken [re my post 3];
    Yes, of course I’m aware of how money circulates and what taxes are. My comment was partly exasperation at the unpunished abuses of the business migration scheme and at all the unnecessary free rides given to the business community at the expense of taxpayers and customers over the past thirty years and more.

    Since it is business that stands to gain the most from having workers whose knowledge of plain English is sufficient to stop them getting mangled in the machinery or stop them chasing customers away, let them be the ones who pay the most for making sure all migrants can learn a survival-level of everyday English. User pays, isn’t it?

    Eleusis:
    Do I run the risk of being called “racist” again if I mention that there are some cultures that believe in keeping women submissive, ignorant and isolated?

    If attendance at free Migrant English classes was made compulsory by law – and the law enforced!!! – and if the classes were not mixed, there would be no excuse whatsoever (by husbands or – surprise, surprise – by wives either) for not attending such classes. The extent to which migrants benefit from the English course would be up to the individual migrants themselves – but at least we would have done our duty in helpng them enjoy all aspects of a new life in Australia.

    Andrew Bartlett:
    No. I haven’t lost sight of the importance of migrants taking part in our political processes.

  7. eleusis:

    Separate classes for men and women might be necessary when discussing sexual issues.

    Fundamentalists of some cultures might not take in the message in mixed classes.

    The single-sex classes would also need to be taught by a same-sex person.

  8. Graham – dont worry your still high on the list of admirable humanists.

    Buisness doesnt employ (or at least not for long) people who dont earn them money, unless of course some loopy government scheme pays them more to employ them than they lose for them. those that mumble incogherenlty are eitehr still mkaing buinsess monye (hence no incentive to train any moer) or employed by or fed from the taxpayer

  9. Ken:
    No worries.
    Sadly, there are some in business (overprotected, by the loopy government schemes you mentioned, from commercial reality) who believe fairystories that migrants “always work harder” than native-born regardless of how individual workers, of whatever background, actually perform on the job.

    Andrew Bartlett:
    You have good reason indeed to be concerned about the de-facto exclusion of so many, in certain unfavoured groups, from the electoral rolls.

    Okay, what can each of us ordinary voters do stop our fellow citizens – and migrants who want to become our fellow citizens – being unfairly excluded from democracy by this glorified, nation-wide “branch stacking”?

    (Just as a personal matter, during my own lengthy military service, many service personnel were unfairly struck off the electoral roll time-and-time again because our duties required us to move around – so much for risking our lives fighting to protect democracy!)

  10. Andrew Bartlett:
    I’ll bet that if you sent a letter to a blackfella and addressed it “Mr___ ____, Long-grass, Darwin, NT, 800”, he would get it within a day or so of it arriving in Darwin.

    And if that address is good enough for a Senator of the Commonwealth of Australia then why wouldn’t it be good enough for the Electoral Commission?

    Don’t try to tell me that the vote of a blackfella, Mr __ ___, is worth less than my one vote simply because I live under a roof that (usually) doesn’t leak whereas he lives in the long-grass. Fair go now.

  11. G Bell:
    I think you’re right.
    1] The new citizenship Tests would be a good way of discouraging Muslims from becoming Australian Citizens.

    2] The study of English Literature is nonsense as you say and not even economically utilitarian.

    3] Calling Aboriginal people “blackfellas” is not racist.

    There is even an advance copy of the new Citizenship Test at the Values Australia website. I think you will find these points made even more strongly there.

  12. A serious by funny story:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egon_Erwin_Kisch

    In particular, I quote:

    “In the years between the Machtergreifung and the outbreak of World War II, Kisch continued to travel widely to report and to speak publicly in the anti-fascist cause. He combined both in his visit to Australia as a delegate to an anti-fascist conference in 1934 which he later chronicled in Australian Landfall (1937). The right-wing Australian government repeatedly refused Kisch entry. Under Australian law visitors could be refused entry if they failed a dictation test in any European language. This law was used to enforce the White Australia Policy by ensuring that potential Asian immigrants were given an impossibly hard test. Kisch was one of the very few Europeans to be given the test and as he was a noted linguist, the test was given in Scottish Gaelic and he consequently failed. He then took matters into his own hands. He jumped five meters from the deck of his ship onto the quayside at Melbourne, breaking his leg in the process. This dramatic action mobilised the Australian left in support of Kisch and after a series of court cases, the government in the form of then Attorney-General Robert Menzies was soundly defeated.”

  13. Graham Giblin:
    English Literature is great; some of my friends have now become proficient enough in English to enjoy reading novels and non-fiction in English … but … they had to learn how to cope with their everyday needs first.

    Ensuring migrants are able to read a Lock-Out Tag or simple Instructions For Use or a Warning will do more for keeping them alive than will stunning a class of migrants with a display of knowledge of less common literary styles. It’s all a matter of priorities.

    Aborigines I’ve known called themselves “Aborigine” or “Blackfella” or “Murri”; eventually the currently-fashionable word “Indigene” might reach their ears. Whether they then choose to use that particular term to describe themselves is entirely up to them.

    Clinton:
    Have heard of the Kisch case before …. how ridiculous!

    Hey, just for fun, why don’t we rename the new citizenship-mateship-fairdinkumship language test the Egon Kisch Test? :-)

  14. Most migrants realise pretty quickly that the way to get ahead is to speak the local language. Not only can you learn what’s going on around you, you’re much more likely to get higher paying jobs.

    As far as I can tell, the people who aren’t learning English are the older folk who don’t need to go out and work and interact with society at large. And I don’t think this is a large proportion.

    Values are a different matter. I reckon that encoding values involves either one of two things. You can make them statements that are so vague and generalised (such as fairness, tolerance, respect, mateship) that you can’t imagine anyone in the world disagreeing with them.

    The other is trying to make them so specific to Australia that they invite strenuous debate as to what exactly they mean and it can leave them open to ridicule – especially if Australian-born people don’t know or agree with them.

    That said, I don’t necessarily disagree with having a test about Australia and our history for potential citizens. America is rightly proud of much of its history (and tends not to think about other parts) and asks its future citizens to learn about the government, history and symbols of the country.

    But the big question is what do you ask, how you ask it and have you given people opportunity to learn these things.

  15. 1: i do wish people would stop talking about australia as a democracy.

    2: migrants are not citizens, they’re subjects. they’re here because it’s cheaper to import people than to raise replacement workers and consumers. business is unwilling to allow market forces to raise the cost of labor, so demands ‘externalized’ supply.

    3: native born ozzies, if they fail to get a useful education, fall into the ‘loser’ class. this is a source of unrest which is addressed by faux sternness toward immigration.

    4: it is immoral to import educated people from poor countries that need them to raise their standard of living.

    5: accepting refugees is moral. but business wants educated people,not refugees. consequently, accepting the immigration policy of the current mob of political bandits is immoral.

    this might not bother you- but it also builds-in divisive forces which result in crime and ultimately insurrection.

  16. al loomis:

    The government made a fundamental error around 1970, when they educated teenagers to believe they should follow a policy of Zero Population Growth. They told us we should have 2.3 children.

    Unfortunately, I think they based this view on the overpopulation of countries such as China.

    They also gave little forethought to the possibility that such a low number of offspring would not be able to support an ageing population receiving better medical treatments.

    They also failed to take into account the fact that some people wouldn’t marry; or might not be able to have any children; or the infant mortality rate etc etc.

    In my own very large extended family, the previous generation born between about 1905 and 1940 barely produced 2.3 children each (when divided between them), despite the fact that several families were large.

    Some of the younger people, of course, had access to the contraceptive pill (which came into use around 1960) to limit the size of their families.

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