Being asked the colours of the Australian flag or to name the national anthem probably wouldn’t make most Canberrans break out in a sweat.
But would you know the exact year the First Fleet arrived in Australia? Could you name the process by which the Constitution can be changed? Or say what role the Governor-General plays in passing laws in Australia?
Getting a little bit trickier?
What about the symbol used to denote official Commonwealth policy? Or what the white headdress in the Torres Strait Islands flag represents? What about the specific rights that Australian citizens have when overseas?
Maybe you’re stumped by now.
For most Canberrans, however, not knowing these answers doesn’t really matter. After all, Google exists – and none of these questions are likely to show up during your local trivia night.
However if you, like me, are one of the 200,000 or so people who become Australian citizens each year, these questions – and more – will be put to you during the Australian citizenship test.
Most Canberrans have also probably walked past the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s ACT Office’s rather unassuming building on Lonsdale St without giving it so much as a second thought. Lonsdale St’s bars and cafés are generally much more appealing to the average Canberran.
But for me, on this special day, I had to ignore the scent of a long black and, instead, turn my mind to my impending citizenship test.
These days, of course, hygiene protocols are strict. Having arrived 15 minutes early to my appointment, I was quickly shooed away and told to return ‘exactly’ at my appointment time.
After copious amounts of hand sanitiser, I was ushered into the deafeningly quiet (and almost empty) waiting room.
Even though I had read through the preparation booklet, and completed the online practice test, my palms were definitely slightly clammy as I was handed the test iPad, (after a thorough verification of my identity, of course).
All the information you need to sit the test is freely available online, and the most comprehensive resource is the Australian Citizenship: Our Common Bond booklet, which will talk you through Australia’s history, geography and government.
Next, you’ll learn about ‘Australia’s democratic beliefs, rights and liberties’.
One of the most interesting sections of the booklet, and of the test, probably concerns the responsibilities you have (and the privileges) as an Australian citizen.
It’s common knowledge that voting is compulsory for Australians. But, you might not know that if the need arises, you can be called upon to ‘defend the nation’ in any capacity required.
For the current Australian citizenship test, the pass mark is 75 per cent (15 out of the 20 questions).
From 15 November 2020, this will change when a new test more focused on Australian values like freedom of speech, respect, equality and democracy is enacted. These questions have to be answered correctly.
But why have a test at all? After all, once upon a time, the government was keen on encouraging as many permanent residents as possible to become citizens. Not so much anymore, unsurprisingly.
These days, the Australian Government sees citizenship as less of a ‘right’ and more of a ‘privilege’, not to be just given away.
That does give rise to an interesting conundrum: should all Australians be tested at some point?
Shouldn’t every Australian, whether born here or overseas, be expected to have the same level of knowledge about Australian history, society and culture? Why is it only us ‘newcomers’ who are expected to know these facts?
Furthermore, does getting 20 questions right make one more Australian? Does a test create the meaningful bond that citizenship is supposed to entail between individual and nation or foster any kind of belonging?
If you want to give it a go, try the online practice test yourself, here.
For all my nerves, I blitzed the test and can now focus on forgetting some of the lesser-known facts about Australia … just like the rest of you.