by KEVIN ANDREWS – THE revelation that 35 per cent of recent applicants failed the Australian Citizenship Test is of concern.
According to the Department of Home Affairs, data reveals more than 100,000 failed citizenship tests over 14 months between June 2022 and August 2023.
The data shows the pass rate under Labor has fallen to 65 per cent compared to about 80 per cent under the Coalition between 2017 and 2021.
Since the May 2022 election, 288,603 citizenship tests were administered to August 31 last year, with 187,574 tests passed.
The tests, which include 20 multiple-choice questions on freedom of speech, the importance of democracy, and the rule of law, – require a person to correctly – answer five questions on Australian values and achieve a mark of at least 75 per cent to pass.
The citizenship test was last updated by the Morrison Government in November 2020 to include a dedicated section on Australian values.
The Citizenship Test was announced in December 2006 and introduced when I was the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship in October 2007.
During the term of the Howard government, it became clear that many people immigrating to Australia either didn’t understand or didn’t share our values, most likely the former reason.
There was no simple solution to this issue, especially if the nation maintained a non-discriminatory immigration policy and accepted refugees from all parts of the world, based on the greatest needs.
Many people with little or no connection to our Western culture were immigrating to Australia.
It was not about blaming them for their background or singling them out as “different”, but acknowledging that many of the values underpinning the Australian way of life were completely new to them.
Surely, we had a responsibility to explain our values – and new immigrants a responsibility to understand them?
A response adopted by many jurisdictions was to introduce a citizenship test.
Announced in December 2006 and operational from October 2007, relatively minor changes have been made by Labor and Coalition governments. Labor did not oppose the introduction of the test.
To pass the citizenship test an applicant must show: a basic knowledge of the English language; an understanding of what it means to become an Australian citizen; an adequate knowledge of Australia and the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship; and an understanding and commitment to Australian values based on freedom, respect, and equality.
These values are: Commitment to the rule of law; Parliamentary democracy; Freedom of speech, association, and religion; Equality of all people under the law, Equality of opportunity and a “fair go”; and Mutual respect and tolerance of others.
None of these values are particularly controversial for the majority of Australians. It would appear, however, that at least some of them are problematic for many seeking to become Australian citizens – and for some who were born here or who have become citizens.
For example, the citizenship booklet includes a range of sample questions, including the following.
“In Australia, you can encourage violence against a person or group of people, if you have been insulted:
(a) Yes, if you do not intend to carry out violence,
(b) No, it is against Australian values and the law,
(c) Sometimes, if I feel very offended.”
To anyone cognisant of our values, the answer clearly is (b) – it is against Australian values and the law.
Yet, there have been a series of recent comments by some community leaders and others urging violence against people of different religious views.
This intolerance should continue to be called out. It is un-Australian.
The government should respond to the Home Affairs data, as well as to recent events.
It should stress to applicants for citizenship that understanding Australian values is critical to becoming a citizen.
If necessary, additional resources should be devoted to educating applicants.
It should also take action against the people who breach the law and these values. If the existing laws are insufficient, then they should be strengthened.
A nation without shared values cannot survive.PC