Thursday, January 03, 2008

A strengthened citizenship test deserves strong support

I am a strong supporter of English language testing for migrants and of the principle of a citizenship test. An earlier post I made showed 85% of Australians support an English language test while in Germany, Britain and the US at least 80% of citizens support language plus citizenship tests. I am surprised the figures are in fact so low!

All Australians should speak English. Of course migrants may wish to retain and use their mother tongue – there are potential gains to Australia from them doing so - but English is and should be a single unifying national language. The advantages of having a universal means of communication based on our Anglo-Celtic origins are obvious. English is our national language and it is co-incidentally the international language of science and business.

Testing potential citizens can help ensure that migrants who seek citizenship understand that Australia has a history and a culture. It is also a surrogate for a very low-level general intelligence test if, as is the case with current Australian tests, all the answers to the test are pre-supplied in a short booklet.

Some migrants – and regrettably some resident Australians as well as those in the fashionable left - are openly derisive about the issues of Australian identity and culture. For example some migrants are openly dismissive of aboriginal culture. We cannot do much about post-school age residents in this regard but can certainly try to address ignorance among newcomers.

In addition people from dirt poor xenophobic societies, from totalitarian societies, from theocracies with zero tolerance for other religions (or for democracy) and from racist East Asian societies that have no immigration programs of their own, and who openly dismiss people of dark skin colour, need to appreciate that Australia rejects their primitive values. We have a better society than they had and don’t need a primitivist cultural injection. We cannot change the attitudes of migrants but can at least make them aware of some of the virtues Australia has through education.

Similar comments could be made about some migrant attitudes to women, to the natural environment and to recognising the possibility of a plurality of religious commitments. Questions on such issues might plausibly be included in an expanded and strengthened citizenship test.

The implicit assumption of extreme multiculturalists is that Australian culture is an empty slate into which migrants of any background, inject colour and content. This is a misleading paradigm. In terms of standards of living, respect for the environment, adherence to democratic values and tolerance Australia outperforms all our major migrant source countries – even countries like New Zealand and the UK. It certainly outperforms Asia, Eastern Europe or the Middle East.

Migrants coming to Australia here gain access to a range of tangible and intangible community assets – law and order, democracy, pre-paid infrastructure and social security entitlements – that deliver huge unpaid-for benefits to them. This is one of the reasons they come to live here.

There are economic gains to a recipient country from immigration but these gains are dwarfed by the economic and social gains migrants enjoy.

Australia should give away citizenship for nothing only if it sees citizenship as worth nothing. The early Fitzgerald Report into migration noted this and emphasised the case for assigning specific benefits to citizens that went beyond the right to vote.

It is eminently reasonable that Australia adheres to minimum standards for accepting migrants and for accepting the conversion of migrants into citizens. The minimum now is simply that migrants shall speak English and score 60% in a test based on a 46 page booklet on Australia’s history and culture. Australia offers too much in benefits to need to be, in any sense, a dumping ground, for the unintelligent and uninformed. The refugee and humanitarian program is an important possible exception to this view but the core of the migration program must emphasise the acceptance of skilled, intelligent people who understand what Australia is and what it has to offer.

But in fact more than 20% of those attempting the test cannot pass it or demonstrate reasonable English. The response suggested by some this week is to consider abolishing or modifying the test! My suggestion instead would be to review the migration entry guidelines and find out how such dim-witted test failures were ever granted entry. They must have lived in Australia for at least 4 years to be eligible to seek citizenship so it is not unreasonable that they have acquired something more than basic English language skills so that they are at the point where they can answer very simple questions from a 46 page book. These failures indicate a defect in the initial migrant selection process.

The citizenship and English language tests should be retained and, if anything, strengthened. It might for example include questions on environmental protection and the respect Australians have for the natural environment. We should not abolish the test simply because, in the past, we have made wrong immigrant entry decisions that has provided as with a cohort of migrants who are so stupid they cannot pass it. Hopefully too Mr Rudd will honour his pre-election promise to retain the test – this seems to be the case at present.

My concern is that mooting proposals of this sort is the first step by the left-dominated ethnic lobby to promote a return to the Hawke-Keating approach to migration policy. This involved almost all migrants being part of the so-called Family Program – based on the ‘family reunion’ idea*. These policies were used by that silver-haired blubberer and hypocrite Hawke to buy the ethnic vote in our large cities. This involved selling out the interests of Australia for the most modest political gains and was a total scandal. Labor showed, in the Hawke-Keating years, that it could not be trusted with immigration – it undermined confidence in the migration program, produced the Pauline Hansons of this world and generally reduced community acceptance of migrants.

Let us now stick with the far superior migration policies of the Coalition which emphasised skilled migration and which substantially increased the total migration intake. It was one of the better Coalition policy moves. It is essential to retain strong entry requirements for migrants coming to Australia and retain strong citizenship and English language requirements before granting citizenship.

Update: The Ethnic Communities Council has directly asked the Government to abolish the test. Minister Evans has apparently refused to do this. Good.

* The best way migrant families can prevent being disunited is for members to avoid emigration. Of course Australia has no obligation to re-unite those who voluntarily choose to split-up with those who originally did not emigrate.


Bring Back CL's blog said...

Although I am in favour of all immgrants being able to speaak english the great post-war migration brought us a lot of immigrants who couldn't speak english, indeed some still cannot.

History shows the ability to speak english happens overtime as people integrate.

Spiros said...

The citizenship test needs to be set so that migrants understand the basic tenets of Australian culture and values yet not be too difficult. So, a deconstruction of the works of Patrick White might bea bit of a reach. I suggest the following 5 question test.

Q1. Who is the king of spin?

A1. Warnie.

Q2. Who is the greatest living Australian?

A2. Warnie.

Q3. Who should be the role model for all Australian men?

A3. Warnie,

Q4. Who has rooted over 1000 sheilas?

A4. Warnie.

Q5. Who is a top bloke?

A5. Warnie.

Bonus question (citizen-candiates get a free pair of thongs for getting it right):

Q. Who should be our first President, if we ever get one?

A. Warnie.

conrad said...

I think you are stuck in polar opposites again. If Bill Gates wanted to move to, say, Germany, I'm sure they would be happy to have him even if he didn't speak German. English is already worth a lot of points on the test, and I don't see why it should be absolute, as can be seen from the above example.

Thinking of more local examples, I imagine a fair chunk of Chatswood doesn't speak English, but it didn't stop them doing everyone a favor by making lots of money and essentially doing something the government never could, which was to set up a second CBD.

On a second note, I wish all the white people in HK (and the mainland now for that matter) who don't speak a word of Cantonese (including those who grew up there), would piss off.

p.s., How's your Thai going, or didn't you learn it when you stayed there?

tom said...

The statement, all Australians should speak english, sounds scary to me. Do we exile all new borns until they can speak english?. I could go on.

kalmotis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Spiros said...

On a more serious note, Harry appears to be believe that just because someone passes a test which asks them to identify Australian values, that they will then live according to those values.

Unfortunately, it aint so. Everybody who has a driving licence has passed a written test on the road rules and has managed to persuade the tester that they are a safe driver. Having done that, a lot of them proceed to drive like homicidal maniacs.

The same goes for the risible citizenship test. No doubt a lot of jew-hating, women-hating, faggot hating, Harry Clarke-hating undesirables have already passed the test and become Australian citizens, because they figured out the answers the authorities were looking for so they could get their piece of paper.

Harry, suppose you wanted to spend a year at an Iranian university but to get a visa the Iranian government said that you needed to pass a test on what are Iranian values. I'm sure you could get all the answers right. Does that mean that you would adopt those values?

Methinks not.

hc said...

Homer, One of the significant settlement costs is Engllish instruction so some English abilities should be tested prior to entry. There are plenty of migrants out there - to not require English is foolish.

Conrad, I do speak Thai though it is increasingly poor as I don't use it. BTW the crucial language for foreigners doing business in Thailand is English not Thai. Likewise in Germany Bill gates will do just fine if he can speak English only - the problem would occur if he could only speak Japanese.

Spiros, The test is designed to inform citizenship applicants about important aspects of Australian culture not to change their behaviour. The Warnie joke BTW shows where your perceptions lie - Australian culture is vulgar and stupid. Sorry mate but I don't agree at all.

The Iranian example is foolish. We are not talking about getting a visa but receiving citizenship. If I did find out about Iranian culture and values I might do a better job of living there and cause less problems for myself and residents.

Spiros said...

Harry, if we had a popular vote for president, and the choice was between Warnie and whoever it is plays first violin for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, who do you think would win?

M J Rivera said...

I too share the surprise at the suggestion for the Australian government to abolish the test. I find the reading of "Becoming an Australian Citizen" and its test as a reasonable requirement and a helpful idea. A qualifying exam won’t solve the English literacy problems but it can be part of a bigger solution. People do need at least a reasonable level of speaking and reading English in Australia. How can we even begin to communicate with each other effectively if we don’t even have a common language?

I myself migrated in 1992. Despite an economic need, I would not choose to migrate to a country that has values contrary to mine or speaks mostly in a language, not my own, or one that I am not prepared to learn. I became a citizen in the mid 1990s . Back then, I expected something significant to qualify me as a new citizen of Australia. I wanted to show my gratitude and willingness to belong to the Australian community. I think, for citizenship, I was just asked to read and remember my Australian duties and the allegiance to the Queen. So, I expressed my citizenship and community spirit in practical ways (eg: volunteering and taking on other examples of good Aussie behaviour I witness, etc).

When the citizenship book was released, I read and studied the book myself. Prior to this, as a working professional, I didn’t find any important reason to study Australian history. It was a delight to finally understand the convict past, the gold rush, the Anzac heroism, the Kokoda Track, etc. This meant a lot. I went to the library and bookstore to learn more about Australia. Now, I (re-)visit historical places in Australia as an Australian, not as a tourist. I even “adopted a convict” in the Roses from the Heart gathering of descendants of convict women. I listened to an Aboriginal scholar describe her ancestry and culture. I also found participation in elections more meaningful. I could go on...

Most migrants will not have the time go through what I did. Hence, I am in the process of preparing a website to share the excitement of discovery. It will come with a reviewer for the Australian citizenship test. It will also provide tips or refresher for English. So far, I run a survey ( while this is in progress.

Now, my excitement is mixed with disappointment and uncertainty with this week’s turn of events.

Rather than abolishing the test, the Australian government should just try to improve the content or presentation. For example, I found that some words used are not common knowledge.

What percentage of pass/fail rate anyway is expected as acceptable by the government? On what basis is this a reasonable expectation?

By the way, please take time to make your voice counted in these citizenship test poll:

hc said...

Spiros, Not sure what you are suggesting. Of course Warne would win as her is much better known. Are you suggesting that because we like Warnie - that there is something decadent about the culture? The Australian Chamber Orchestra is one of the best small scale orchestras in the world. There is nothing inferior about it at all. Like many on the left you are responding to a vulgar Edna Everage stereotype of Australian culture - in earlier times it was called the cultural cringe - and you are just wrong.

m j rivera, I am sure many migrants sharew your experience aned do gain many benefits from as short course on aspects of Australian culture. Quite frankly I do not support the admission to Australia of migrants who would not be prepared to make such a minimal effort.

Good luck with your website.

rabee said...

Once again Harry you've crafted a straw man argument.

You're debating demons nurtured in your own mind.

For instance no one argues in any serious way that Australia has no culture of its own. This I recall was pointed out to you on numerous occasions over decades.

The argument is that Australia has numerous centers of culture. It is already multicultural and perhaps has always been so.

The offense is not recognizing the multitudes of cultures that Australia enjoys.

hc said...

Rabee, Your argument does not add a lot. I am arguing that migrants who settle here should speak English and know something about the local culture and history. The polls show such minimal requirements are believed by almost all residents.

Speaking English is important to facilitate social efficiency in communication.

Respecting Australian culture is important because being unaware of it might lead migrants to believe their own values are universally held. Awareness might help promote healthy changes.

Many migrants coming to Australia come from cultures that are decidely un-Australian - xenophobic, racist, intolerant, violent, sexist, undemocratic etc.

Are you asserting there should be no (culture/language) knowledge requirements for citizenship? That is a crazy position.

rabee said...

You managed to slip in the old demon:

"The implicit assumption of extreme multiculturalists is that Australian culture is an empty slate..."

Why should I read anything you've written in this post beyond that?

Regarding your question. There are many centers of Australian culture where people do not speak English well.

Further, as the 2005 Cronulla riots showed "the Australian culture" that you seem to regard as intertemporally and permanently authentically Australian is full of "xenophobic, racist, intolerant, violent, sexist, undemocratic" individuals."

So let's not get carried away with this non-sensical notion of "cultures that are decidely un-Australian."

Emigration policy should be principally based on humanitarian/humanist considerations and ideally be in line with economic reasoning.

These tests that are in the main grand illusions, smoke and mirrors, as it where, are a waist of resources. What's their purpose exactly? What do they add? Beyond giving comfort to those who are decidedly to the right on the xenophobic spectrum.

Bring Back CL's blog said...

Haary ,you are avoiding the point.

no-one disagrees that speaking english facilitates integration however our post-war history shows that this isn't essential.

Lesley de Voil said...

Have just read Irfan Yusuf's article in OLO.
Seems to me, Harry, that your argument fails on a number of points.
a) Notice that Irfan's parents take advantage of one of the great benefits of globalisation - the ability to keep in touch with one's prior culture even while being subjected to pressures to conform in the present one.
I am a second-generation Aussie. I keep in contact with the rellies "back home." I regularly read and look at news from their area. I still resist some of the pressures that would have me ignore my roots. Why am I not surprised that Irfan's parents would do the same?
b) Go to the last para of Irfan's article and ask yourself which category do you see yourself in?
c) I find your argument that a failure rate of 20-30% (BTW,I note that in rounding out your quoted figures that some 20% seems to have been left out.) in an examination situation is unacceptably high rather specious without knowing a few more facts. Are there elderly grandmothers whose those third language is English being measured here or are there really madrassas being set up outside Gunnedah and Milmerran where English is not taught?
d) I find your lumping together of various classes of people without mentioning the rest of the inclusions offensive. Derision of aboriginal culture is not confined to those of the left - in fact, particularly in Queensland, this has been a characteristic found more often in those on the right side of politics.
Further, the notion that migrants ought to be only those previously skilled deprives a developing nation of those who would benefit it most. I do not argue that we should reject the previously skilled, rather that we should be paying more attention to the education of those already here - including our own young.

hc said...

I am glad you enjoyed my return to the 'empty slate' theory.

I do not regard Lebanese Muslims who assault surf lifesavers and confront females on Cronulla beach as injecting any worthwhile cultural values. One of the other attributes of the multi-culturalist lobby is to always be partisan and to take the side of any ethnic group that has problems settling in Australia. As I have said the resulting local reaction - fuelled by alcohol - was over the top but the Lebanese behaviour is decidedly un-Australian and from my perspective unwanted. Yes they come from impoverished, violent circumstances in Lebanon but I don’t believe Australia should be a dumping ground for such people.

Moreover, everyone I know who works in the immigration area believes it was a serious mistake to take so many impoverished, unskilled Lebanese Muslim migrants.

Incidentally who now values Paul Keating overruling the bureaucrats and giving Australian citizenship to the ‘cat’s meat’ Mufti?

Saying that immigration policies ‘should be principally based on humanitarian/humanist considerations and ideally be in line with economic reasoning’ is as close to pure noise as I have seen in the immigration area. It amounts to saying we should have no policy at all and I emphatically reject that.

Australia has the right to be selective and to optimise.

But your claims (and those of Lesley) are irrelevant to the obvious issue that Australia is a sovereign nation and not common property accessible to anyone. If newcomers want to come here they need to fit into Australian society not to be openly antagonistic to it. Getting these newcomers to speak the national language and know some basic facts about Australia is not an unreasonable requirement.

My only quibble about these tests is that perhaps they should be applied prior to entry rather than when they are here. Presumably Australia is stuck with the 20% who cannot pass a simple test.

Spiros said...

"the Lebanese behaviour is decidedly un-Australian"

Because, all we all know, dinky-di Aussie blokes never violently anyone, especially women.

hc said...

Spiros, Don't be silly. Again your comments have nothing to do with the issue of language and citizenship testing.

Women in Australian society go to the beach, flaunt their bikinis and have a good time. This does not provide a basis for harassing them or calling them 'sluts'. It might in less tolerant Muslim societies but not here.

Surf-life savers are much admired in Australia for the community work they do - they do not expect to be assaulted.

Anonymous said...

Hey I know! Lets make Haneef take a language/citizenship test and void his visa that way!

PS Kevin Andrews is a repressed homosexual in love with African men.

mike said...

In april 2008 I decide to have a trip to Australia with my family member. I want to know visas information. Can any one, let me know.