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That idiotic citizenship “test”

16 Aug

My impatience with this particular piece of gross idiocy has been made plain here often enough. So has my enjoyment of the magazine The Big Issue. Both came together yesterday as I read the new Big Issue (the annual short story number) where I spotted in the “Hearsay” column the following from writer, director, actor, teacher and former Young Australian of the Year Khoa Do.

“In the world I grew up in, a lot of people and their parents struggled to speak English,” he said. “Now they are successful in a whole range of fields. My parents are always learning and always trying. Asking whether people who don’t speak fluent English can contribute to Australia is like asking whether a blind or deaf person can contribute. Of course they can.”

I sourced that to an article by Jonathan Pearlman in the Moruya/Bateman’s Bay News. (Good to see regional papers running such stories, though it was in turn sourced to the Sydney Morning Herald.)

…The Immigration and Citizenship Minister, Kevin Andrews, under pressure over the Haneef affair, has announced that future tests for migrants will place greater emphasis on integration, including factors such as an ability to speak English and a willingness to learn the language.

The rules could potentially have precluded vast segments of the population from immigrating, including prominent Australians such as the boxer Kostya Tszyu, the businessman Frank Lowy, the scientist Professor Sir Gustav Nossal – and Mr Andrews’s assistant minister for immigration and citizenship, Teresa Gambaro.

Ms Gambaro, whose parents were born in Italy and could not speak English when they arrived in north Queensland in the 1950s, yesterday voiced support for the Government’s plan.

“My family came with a very positive attitude and they did integrate and learn English,” Ms Gambaro, the MP for Petrie in Brisbane, told the Herald. “But we are talking about a different era. We needed manual workers back then. The need to speak English is different now … But I don’t think the intention is to preclude somebody based on one factor.”

Mr Andrews yesterday lauded the new immigration procedures and declared he would not “be scared off by people who don’t stand up for Australians”. “Look, I think the Australian people are quite clear about this,” he told Radio 2GB’s Ray Hadley. “They want us to be tough and they want us to make sure that Australia’s protected and they know that there are people in the world who have a different view.”

Mr Andrews said the procedures, to start early next year, would examine people’s willingness to integrate and were not an “English test”.

“We bring people now from all countries and all sorts of countries in the world,” he said. “Many of those countries don’t necessarily share our values … We’ve got to balance up bringing people from overseas but with an ability to actually be able to properly settle and integrate into the Australian society. I think that’s what Australians want.”

The pole vaulter Tatiana Grigorieva, who arrived from Russia in 1997 and won a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics, said she would not have passed an immigration test if English skills had been a factor.

“I would have struggled with any sort of test,” she said. “I think it depends how far you take it and how difficult the test is. I would probably have tried to learn English before I came. I am very glad I came to Australia. I will try to make this place a little bit better than before I came.”

Sir Gustav, who fled Vienna with his parents in 1939 and was Australian of the Year in 2000 for his work in immunology, also said he would have been barred if ability to speak English had been a factor. “I agree that people should learn English as fast as possible if they desire to stay here,” he said. “My parents had very little English when they arrived but were strongly committed to adapting and to learning the language. I have no reverence for people who want to ghettoise themselves.”

Kostya Tszyu, a Russian-born boxing champion who came here when he was 22, said immigrants should be encouraged to learn English but should not be barred based solely on language. “It took time to learn English. Sometimes now I even think in English. My parents came here in their 50s. It took them a bit longer and now they have no problem chatting to their neighbours. Now we live in the best country in the world.”

They want us to be tough and they want us to make sure that Australia’s protected and they know that there are people in the world who have a different view… Trouble is the Citizenship Test would achieve none of these aims. Any terrorist or mad bastard of any kind would have no trouble going through these particular hoops if he/she really wanted to, but in the meantime a far greater number of innocent bystanders would be disadvantaged by the fact, despite Kevin Andrews’ denial, that this is an English test, being in English. This stupid populism Ray Hadley may well have bought, along with many of his listeners, but I don’t. You don’t have to be a genius to realise how pointless the whole exercise is.

See also “Mum can be proud that she Singers well” by Khoa Do (4 August 2007).

…For the first decade of Mum’s life in Australia, that’s all she really knew. To put her children through school, to clothe and feed them, she worked in sewing factories – for many hours a day, sometimes seven days a week. It’s hard to learn English if you’re overlocking, stitching, cutting, labelling, hemming. Even if you have a set of learning tapes, as we had.

Throughout her life she has been trying to learn English with the Adult Migrant English Service. But she has had limited success. I remember the first time she went to learn English – she came back that afternoon and asked me to explain the meaning of an adverb. An adverb! Far out, how do you explain to your dear mother, who lived through the Vietnam War, fled the country by boat, raised three children on her own, spent a million hours of her life hunched over a Singer, what an adverb is? Especially when you were too busy talking about whether Spiderman would beat Superman, during the lesson on adverbs in year seven. Poor Mum, I failed in teaching her what an adverb was, and soon after she gave up on learning English.

… I think that for some people, learning English in the first few years of arriving in Australia is really tough. And as I begin thinking about the many people I know, I start to wonder whether their parents would have passed a test in English to become a citizen. Let’s see, there’s my doctor, Dr Tuan. No chance. His father and mother were from the countryside. I think about my friend, now a social worker. No chance. One of my close friends is a high school English teacher, the best in her school – and no, her parents wouldn’t have passed either. As I think about it, a lot of people I know have parents who would have struggled with a test in English. Ultimately, they would’ve failed in becoming Australian citizens and their children wouldn’t be here now.

You’re probably wondering what has happened to my mum and her English. Several years ago my wonderful brother got married, and he had two children. His wife is Suzie; she’s gorgeous and she’s Anglo-Australian. Their two boys, Luc and Xavier, mainly speak English at home. Mum wants to be able to speak to her grandchildren, so yes, she’s studying English again, in her 50s. Once again I find myself helping her out with her comprehension tests and grammar…

That our supposedly intelligent leaders (with some noble back-bench exceptions) have enthused over Anderson’s (originally Robb’s, for which read Howard’s) heap of steaming ordure is just typical, isn’t it? I think it shows just how far backwards we have come under the reign of the Great Grey Garden Gnome of Kirribilli House.

“Trust us! We are EXPERIENCED!”

Sure are… 😦

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4 responses to “That idiotic citizenship “test”

  1. Jim Belshaw

    August 16, 2007 at 11:22 am

    This Neil, I fear, is a rant that I have to agree with.

     
  2. ninglun

    August 16, 2007 at 11:31 am

    Thanks, Jim. I think it is so obvious that I am simply amazed that when this flag was run up the mast anyone saluted!

     
  3. Jangari

    August 16, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    The whole debate is stupid.

    It’s easier for someone to live in Australia without speaking English now than it has ever been, given the diversity of cultures and languages here. The fact that those who push a citizenship test use the ‘integration’ thing as a reason comes down to the fact that they don’t like what they don’t know, and they abhor diversity, for some reason (possibly xenophobia, but that could be pushing it).

    How about mandatory lessons in an indigenous language? You can’t get much more ‘Australian’ than that, surely.

     
  4. ninglun

    August 16, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    I really think discomfort with diversity has been a feature of the Howard government from Day 1. In some instances I am sure there is an element of xenophobia, or consciousness of the “please explain” vote at the least.

     
 
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