In his speech to the Imams on Saturday, Andrew Robb said: “This separation of church and state has contributed significantly to the stability of our democracy and underpinned our commitment to values such as our respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, including freedom of religion, our commitment to the rule of law, the equality of men and women, the spirit of a fair go, of tolerance and compassion for those in need.” Yes but no but yes but… Consider the track record of our government in relation to all of the above and the word “hypocrisy” does come to mind.
The Sydney Morning Herald did a bit of a vox pop at a citizenship ceremony: Loyalty’s fine; language will fail you.
… Mr Faid and his wife, Khadiga, and their five children came to Australia from Sudan two years ago. Mr Faid speaks little English, but he has learned the main words to explain his story.
Why did they come? “War,” he says simply. “Refugee.” Why Australia? “Australia freedom country. Safe here.”
His oldest son, Abdelaziz, has to translate the next question. How does Mr Faid feel about the proposed tests to gauge English proficiency and knowledge of Australian values?
“Doesn’t want it,” Abdelaziz says. “He doesn’t know English.” But Mr Faid wants to make it clear that learning it is one of his goals: “I am doing the language classes, and my wife. In Footscray.”
The family was among the new citizens who received their certificates and congratulations from Andrew Robb, the parliamentary secretary for immigration, at a ceremony in Melbourne.
Mr Robb acknowledged that migrants like the Faids would find it tougher in future. They would have to be in Australia for at least four years, not two, before becoming citizens, and would need a working knowledge of English so they could “hold down a job, and be able to talk to their workmates, read a safety sign, fill in a form”…
I asked one of my coachees on Saturday whether his mother would have become a citizen under what we knew then of the new suggestions. The coachee is potentially in the top 10% of the state in Advanced English. “Probably not,” he said. I know too that M’s application, which seemed to take forever at the time ten years and more ago (almost six years from application for permanent residence to grant of citizenship, in fact), may well have failed. He would have passed, by that stage, a test in functional, practical English, would certainly have passed an oral interview, but would very likely have failed a long test on “civics”, unless he had been able to do the test in Mandarin. Is a working knowledge of Australian values and practice only acceptable if it can be articulated in English? Is this a “fair go”? Nonetheless, I do know that at his citizenship ceremony (the word being pronounced as “cereMOANy” by the then Mayor of South Sydney) he said the oath with full understanding.
These matters really do need closer inspection, lest the barriers being erected become tools for exclusion — and the dark side of “mateship” has ever been the tendency to define and exclude “non-mates” — rather than tools for better citizenship.