May 22

Reservations about the citizenship test

ACM argued in its November 2006 submission  to the government on a proposed citizenship test that  it would be wrong for an Australian government to place reliance on any citizenship test as the sole or dominant method of ensuring that immigrants to Australia will make good citizens, that is, that there first loyalty will always be to Australia and its constitutional system, and that they will make a positive contribution to the nation. Rather, it is a core function of the Australian government that immigrants be carefully selected at the point of entry as having a clear potential to satisfy this criterion.  (My maternal grand parents and my mother, then aged 12, were given a test in 1917 when they arrived in Sydney in 1917. This was a dictation test.)   In our submission, ACM expressed its concern about reports, including those relating to the release of cabinet papers under the 30 year rule, which indicated that entry standards had been lowered in the past against advice, and of political interference in the determination of immigration applications. ACM also argued for the restoration of the Oath of Allegiance rather than the Mr. Keating’s vague collective pledge.

The government subsequently decided to proceed with a citizenship test. Then on 18 May 2007 News Limited newspapers reported that they had obtained some of the questions which will be used in the test, the answers to which seem capable of being marked by a computer. The immigrant is required to choose one of several answers to twenty questions chosen from a list. If the test is implemented, the list of questions will become widely known, which will probably encourage immigrants to memorise the answers, rather than to learn about the nation.



A particular weakness of this test is that only one answer to each question is deemed to be correct. This is of course in order where the question is factual e.g., the name of the first Australian prime minister.  But this approach is wrong when we enter areas which are the subject of continuing debate, for example, the question about the Australian head of state. The average immigrant does not have, and should not be required to have, the intimate knowledge of international law, diplomacy, constitutional law and political science which would allow him or her to give a considered answer. Until the republicans decided to use the term, it was so specialised it was not included in the first edition of the Macquarie dictionary.  But this question is to be in the test, if the News Limited report is correct:

“9. Who is Australia’s head of state?

a. Prime Minister John Howard

b. Queen Elizabeth II

c. Governor General Michael Jeffery

d. Premier Steve Bracks”

They claim the only correct answer is ‘b’.  This was in issue in the 1999 referendum when ACM argued the Governor- General is the head of state. Australian governments tell other governments and the UN that this is so. The prime minister says the Governor-General is the effective head of state while Mr. Keating’s government declared the Governor-General the head of state without any qualification.  In his recent book on this very issue, Sir David Smith has marshalled a convincing argument that the Governor -General is the constitutional head of state. It is therefore demonstrably unfair to rule in this sort of test that only one answer is correct.    

Then there is the question:

“5. Australia’s political system is a … 


 Parliamentary democracy



Socialist state”

The authors say the only correct answer is “Parliamentary democracy.”  But Australia is both constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy. It is according to the preamble to the Constitution Act, an “indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown.” Again it is unfair to say only one answer is correct.  An immigrant should not be refused citizenship just because he or she thinks Australia is a monarchy, or that the Governor-General is the head of state. After all that is what the government tells foreign governments and the UN.

Another question which will cause debate is directly on Australian values:

“15. Australia’s values are based on the …

a. Teachings of the Koran

b. The Judaeo-Christian tradition

c. Catholicism

d. Secularism”

The correct answer, for the test, is the Judaeo-Christian tradition.  I happen to agree with this, but learning just this rote answer could  lead to the ludicrous conclusion that the Judaeo-Christian tradition and Catholicism are diametrically opposed, which of course is untrue.  A citizenship test made up of only multiple choice questions, unsupported by other measures, may not achieve the objectives of the exercise. It could become a memory test.

Postscript, 30 May,2007:

On 22 May we expressed reservations about the citizenship test published in News Limited newspapers on 18 May, 2007. Today, 30 May, we saw a report in that the authorities have denied that the test was theirs. If so, we assume the test, when it appears, does not mark down candidates who say the Governor-General is head of state or that Australia is a monarchy.








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