3 November 2020

A citizenship conundrum: to test, or not to test?

| Lottie Twyford
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Citizenship papers

Do you know what the white headdress in the Torres Strait Islands flag represents? Photo: Region Media.

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).

Citizenship ceremony

Citizenship ceremony. Photo: Goulburn Mulwaree Council.

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.

READ ALSO What about Wattle Day as the next Australia Day?

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.

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20 out of 20, hopefully like most other people.

If you were born here and can’t pass that test, then it is a real sign our education system needs fixing.

If you are emigrating here and can’t pass it then you aren’t showing much commitment to your new home.

People complaining about it are just looking for something to whine about.

It certainly is a much easier test than our driving tests.

Stephen Saunders10:38 am 04 Nov 20

I’m n-generations Anglo-Celtic, but I reject the white Christian, Morrison/Tudge, version of our Aussie queen, flag and “values”.

Permanent, landed, migrants are not obliged to endure this ridiculous test, and take out citizenship. I recommend they don’t.

Yeah I agree.

Why would we want our citizenship to mean anything?

And why would we want migrants to know our history and share our values?

That won’t help social cohesion and assimilation at all…….

It is an unfortunate fact that some new citizens come from cultures that have a much less enlightened attitude towards women, people of diverse sexuality and other religions.

While passing a silly test obviously won’t change their attitudes, it can help remove the pathetic excuse that new citizens didn’t realise their behaviour was unacceptable in this country.

I would think that those who claim up to stand up for gender, sexuality and religious freedom would applaud efforts to ensure all our citizens are at the very least aware of our cultural expectations on such topics. Perhaps they should be pushing for even stronger citizenship tests to make it abundantly clear what our cultural attitudes are.

But I suppose I’m hoping for people to actually want to make things better, not to just complain about everything the government does.

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