Howard government unveils new Australian values citizenship test

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Jan 7 16:26:17 UTC 2007

>>From the Melbourne Independent Media Center

Howard government unveils new Australian values citizenship test

by Fergus Michaels via sam Sunday January 07, 2007 at 10:05 AM

The cultivation of racialist tensions is aimed at cutting directly across
the class solidarity between workers of all backgrounds that has
characterised recent mass rallies and protests against the Iraq war, the
IR laws and in defence of living standards. Australian Prime Minister John
Howard last month chose the anniversary of the December 2005 race riot at
Sydneys Cronulla beach to outline further details of the citizenship test
initially proposed last September. The choice of date was itself
indicative of the underlying thrust of the new test, and the entire
campaign to restore what Howards government calls Australian values. The
anti-Muslim rampage at Cronulla was whipped up by talk-back radio hosts
and other mass media, the Howard government and other promoters of
Australian nationalism as part of a campaign aimed at creating the
political climate for escalating military aggression in the Middle East,
accompanied by attacks on basic democratic rights at home. Its purpose is
to divide the working class along ethnic and religious lines, and divert
escalating social tensions caused by the growing chasm between a wealthy
elite and the vast majority of ordinary people into communal conflicts.

Howard announced that migrants would have to answer 30 multiple-choice
questions on Australian society and history from a collection of 200, with
all questions and responses exclusively in English. In addition, they will
have to pass a yet-to-be specified test to demonstrate a working knowledge
of the English language. Citizenship will be allowed only after four years
of permanent residency, twice the previous requirement. These measures
will discriminate against immigrants from non-English speaking
backgrounds, and against those who are working class and poor, less able
to afford the thousands of dollars needed to take intensive English
language classes. All citizenship applicants will also be compelled to
sign a formal statement declaring their allegiance to what Andrew Robb,
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural
Affairs, describes as the Australian way of life and our shared values.
Even those applying for a visa stay of more than 12 months, except New
Zealanders, will first have to indicate their understanding and respect of
Australian values.

Muslims and those of Middle Eastern descent are the immediate focus of
this attack. In February last year, Howard said Muslim immigrants posed a
unique social threat, citing a supposed fragment which is utterly
antagonistic to [Australian] society. He claimed that raving on about
jihad made Muslims particularly dangerous, insinuating that they were
likely to be terrorists. Treasurer Peter Costello later declared that
Muslims should accept Australian values or leave. The clear implication
was that those who refused to pledge their allegiance to
officially-defined values should be stripped of citizenship and deported.
More broadly, the proposed legislation will provide a means for denying
citizenshipand hence fundamental democratic rights, such as the right to
vote, stand for election and travel to and from Australiato anyone
regarded as politically dangerous or insufficiently patriotic. According
to National Party Senator Barnaby Joyce, a member of Howards ruling
Coalition, the new test will block those who have militant ideas who want
to destroy our nation.

Already, visa and citizenship applicants can be rejected, on the advice of
the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) as security
risks. Now, adherence to a set of political values will become the basis
upon which citizenship is granted or denied. As a September 17 government
discussion paper stated, the test will become a mechanism to ensure that
citizens understand common values, which will promote social cohesion.
This is the real meaning of the governments repeated claim that Australian
citizenship is a privilege, not a right. Privileges can, after all, be
taken away. Howards timinghis announcement also came within a week of the
election of a new Labor Party leader, Kevin Ruddforeshadows a khaki
election campaign this year centred on militarism and jingoism. But the
implications of the Australian values crusade, which Labor entirely
supports, go far beyond immediate electoral calculations. It is no
coincidence that new citizens will be required to pledge their willingness
to defend Australia should the need arise, i.e., participate in military

Governments around the world are ratcheting up national values as a means
of preparing their populations for war, amid the eruption of US militarism
in the Middle East and escalating major power conflicts over energy
resources, trade and markets. A day after Howard unveiled the new test,
British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared that Muslims had a duty to
integrate into British society and accept common unifying British values.
US authorities have also recently announced a tougher citizenship
examination, designed to test understanding of US values. Governments in
Japan, the Netherlands and New Zealand are running similarly nationalist
values and language campaigns. According to last Septembers discussion
paper, Australian values are:  respect for the freedom and dignity of the
individual, our support for democracy, our commitment to the rule of law,
the equality of men and women, the spirit of a fair go, and mutual respect
and compassion for those in need.

The list is deeply hypocritical. Regarding democracy and the rule of law,
the Howard government has been the most vociferous supporter of the Bush
administrations illegal wars of aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq,
its installation of puppet regimes and the destruction of basic democratic
rights at home under the banner of the war on terror. In its own Pacific
patch, the Howard government has dispatched troops, police and officials
to enforce undemocratic regime change in East Timor, take control of key
levers of power and create political provocations in the Solomon Islands,
shore up an unelected monarchy in Tonga, undermine the government in
Vanuatu and meddle in the internal affairs of Papua New Guinea and Fiji.
For more than five years, Australian citizen David Hicks has been stripped
of all freedom and dignity, along with the right to a fair trial, in his
incarceration and torture at the US military detention camp at Guantnamo
Bay, and Australian personnel have been involved in similar illegal
practices at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As for a fair go and mutual respect and compassion, refugees seeking
asylum in Australia have been turned away by warships or transported for
indefinite detention on remote islands. At the same time, social
inequality has reached unprecedented levels. The richest 200 people now
have a combined wealth of $100 billion, while one fifth of all households,
or 3.6 million people, attempt to live on less than $400 a week.

The new dictation test

Howards new measures bear a striking resemblance to the notorious
dictation test used to enforce the racist White Australia policy at the
turn of the twentieth century. The federation of the Australian nation in
1901 was founded on this policy, aimed at promoting Anglo-European
supremacism and dividing Australian workers from their fellow toilers
across Asia. Under the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, the test
became the means for imprisoning and deporting any new arrival who could
not accurately write down 50 words dictated by an immigration officer in
any European language selected by the officer. Migrants who were
nationally or racially undesirable were expelled on the official grounds
of insufficient language skills. At present, a basic knowledge of English
is required for citizenship, with the test consisting of a simple oral
conversation with an immigration official. Now, according to Howard,
applicants must have a working capacity in the national language, which is
English. The new requirement will be used to weed out immigrants from
non-English speaking parts of the globe, notably Asia, the Middle East,
Latin America and most of Africa.

In reality, English is only the de facto national language of Australia.
It does not have de jure status, as acknowledged by the immigration
departments own website. The elevation of English into the national
language is designed to separate English-speaking citizens from alien
immigrants and foster a xenophobic climate. Howards claim that after four
years of Australian residency its not unreasonable to expect migrants to
develop a facility in the English language lacks any foundation. The
website of the Centre for Adult English Language Acquisition states that
five years is generally acknowledged as the minimum time required for a
person with no previous English to achieve most communication tasks. It
takes 500-1,000 hours of instruction for an adult who is literate in
another language, but has no prior English instruction, to reach a level
where she can satisfy her basic needs, survive on the job, and have
limited social interaction in English.

For many years, immigrants received free English language classes but
today the government provides only limited help through the Adult Migrant
English Program (AMEP). AMEP offers 510 hours of tuition to most adult
migrants for an annual fee of $315. Refugee and humanitarian entrants are
eligible for 610 hours, or 910 hours if they are under the age of 25.
Beyond that, private providers charge hefty feesfor example, the Sydney
College of English offers a part-time, 15-hour per week intensive English
course for $250 per week. Howard faces no real opposition within the
parliamentary and media establishment. In fact, the Labor Party, which
together with the trade unions was the architect of the White Australia
policy, has played a leading role in the Australian values campaign. Last
year, former Labor leader Kim Beazley demanded that all entrants into
Australia, including tourists, sign an oath of loyalty as part of the
struggle against extremists and terrorists.

While his successor Rudd has shelved this proposal, Labor fully supports
the new citizenship test. Its shadow minister for immigration, integration
and citizenship, Tony Burke, declared last week that the Australian
community knew how important speaking English is to successful
integration. Australian Greens Senator Kerry Nettle opposed the
citizenship measures, but only on the nationalist basis that Howard had
failed to justify [their] need, or show how they will make Australians
better off. She called on Labor to join the Greens in voting against the
legislation. Her comments only serve to promote illusions in Labor and to
obscure the real motivations behind the values campaign.

Working people should oppose all forms of discrimination and chauvinism.
As a matter of fundamental principle, all people, no matter what their
country of birth, ethnic background or financial position, should have the
right to live and work wherever they choose, with full political and
democratic rights. That is the perspective fought for by the Socialist
Equality Party.


N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal.


More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list