Definitely not a simple one, is our Great Grey Garden Gnome; anything he does is calculated, that you may be sure of. So how would our past migrants have fared under the rules he thinks necessary before one deserves to be an Australian “mate”? Not well. Just go to The Migration Heritage Centre at the Powerhouse Museum and read the stories there. For example, Marie Sekutkovski from Macedonia:
When I arrived in Australia I didn’t speak any English. Our next door neighbour sold vegetables from a truck around town. One day I asked him, ‘Can I have some onions to cook something?’. But he gave me two bananas. My daughter made me go back with some onion skins so he would know what I wanted. This time I got onions.
Then the children started to learn English and my daughter did a correspondence course. My daughter went to work for a doctor’s wife helping with the children. That’s how she learnt English and later she taught me.
Sorry, Marie, but you wouldn’t have cut it in the near future, not if The Gnome gets his way.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Andrew Robb, the Government’s Parliamentary Secretary is in charge of citizenship matters but he won’t talk about his long awaited discussion paper ahead of its release on Sunday.
The Prime Minister isn’t as coy about the Commonwealth’s plan.
JOHN HOWARD: Certainly we are going to lift the waiting period to four years. There will be a fairly firm English language requirement and the paper itself, and I don’t want to steal Mr Robb’s thunder, will contain quite a number of other issues. It will pose a series of questions, it will draw on the experience of other countries that have introduced citizenship tests and we’re going about the whole thing in a methodical way.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Speaking on Southern Cross Radio this morning Mr Howard says for most people it won’t be harder to become an Australian citizen.
JOHN HOWARD: It won’t become more difficult if you’re fair dinkum and most people who come to this country are fair dinkum about becoming part of the community. I think most people will welcome it. You’ll certainly need to know a good deal more about Australia and about Australian customs and the Australian way of life.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Prospective citizens would also be expected to know some Australian history and some Australian values. Mr Howard says the era of the cultural cringe has well and truly passed…
Of course we don’t cringe before George Bush, do we? Perhaps prospective migrants could learn “The Man from Snowy River” — maybe ten lines or so at least — parrot-fashion and then they’d get all the criteria in one hit! Perhaps I should patent that…
Um, I have to eat crow just a little… The proposals The Gnome is talking about relate to citizenship requirements, not to migration criteria, even though it remains true that a similar mindset applies there. I of course accept the necessity of citizens to speak the country’s majority language well enough to be able to participate to the greatest possible extent. There are also very good reasons, political, cultural and economic, to encourage the preservation of valuable multilanguage skills that the migrant brings to us all. I would have reservations about the kind of English test citizens had to pass, mind. As Daniel says below, plenty of people born here might fail such a test!