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Syed Atiq ul Hassan: Let’s Test Australian Values

Let’s Test Our Australian Values


By Syed Atiq ul Hassan, Sydney

Andrew Robb, parliamentary secretary to the Australian Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone announced that the government is considering a compulsory citizenship test for prospective immigrants, requiring them to demonstrate their English language skills and knowledge of Australia's values, customs, laws and history.

Ethnic and religious groups, in majority, have opposed the proposal. According to them compulsory English and citizenship tests for new immigrants will unfairly discriminate against some people who wish to come to Australia for a better life.

The Chair of Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia Ms. Voula Messimeri also strongly condemned the proposal. She said that Australia has a very long and proud history of accepting people from all around the world and that there are many countries where English is not taught at all, so the people are unable to speak English. According to her view passing an English test will not embrace new arrivals instead it will discriminate many intended immigrants.

Voula is quite right. The Australian government spends significant resources and funds on English learning programmes for non-English speaking people. Many government departments have provision for public to deal with the matters in their native languages. For example; to obtain a driver’s license, the people can undertake the knowledge test in many different languages. These kinds of advantages and facilities for immigrants are largely appreciated not within Australia but internationally.

These are the true ‘AUSTRALIAN VALUES’ by giving everyone a ‘fair go’.

Firstly, knowing the language of the majority of the population is the basic need of the individual. Secondly, command over any language comes through the social environment - It is a natural process of learning. As a matter of fact it is a common experience that the immigrants of non-English speaking background take the matter seriously and feel worried about their English. Over the period of time they improve their English language skills and feel proud of their competitive English. The Australian born children of migrants commonly speak English even with their parents without any pressure.

If we further go in Australian history, the parents and grandparents of most of the leaders in the government, today, were speaking languages other than English and today English is their only language of communication. Nevertheless, who could refute to the benefits of being a multilingual, it is always in the interest of an individual in order to communicate better and effectively in a diversified society. Moreover, we are talking about the English language, which is not only a main Australian language but one of the main international medium of communication.

The government’s argument is that whoever is coming to Australia must know the Australian values, customs and laws. Well, accepting this argument, it is very logical to accept the reality that to successfully adjust in the new environment it is indeed in the interest of an immigrant to have basic knowledge on Australia, its environment, culture and laws. Nonetheless, commonly immigrants understand this phenomenon.

One cannot see any reason or justification for the present government to create this new issue of English language skills and citizenship tests for new immigrants. However, if we look last 10 years of Howard’s government it would be easy to understand how the issues have been created, exploited and cultivated in order to gain support from common Australians. Any issue based on nationalism, loyalty, patriotism or any issue that touches peoples’ sentiments could easily exploit the public heart and become a successful instrument in gaining support on winning election.

John Howard and his government is constantly following the policies of United States, Britain and other big powers of the West especially on the issues of international nature. In this case, Howard’s government has announced that it wants to adopt the same kind of citizenship test which is conducted in Holland, Britain and other countries. Well, do we need to explain Prime Minister Howard and his team, again and again, that we are Australian - a separate nation of a country that has its own political and social history, culture and tradition; a country that has its own and different geopolitical needs; a county which recognises, accepts, respects and celebrates its cultural diversity. Australian policy of ‘open for everybody’ motivated the people of every race, religion and nationality to migrate to Australia and enjoy the freedom of practicing their faith and culture.

It is to be noted that Britain now has a citizenship test which was introduced in November 2005. In Britain the immigrants have to undertake a test in English and then they have to attend a special public ceremony held by a local registrar. The level of knowledge they want to expect from the immigrants can be measured from the questions in this test. For example; one of the questions in this test is “if the heir to the throne can marry anyone who isn't Protestant” Answer ‘Yes’ or ‘no’.

The truth of the matter is that there is no serious issue in Australia that could relate to the introduction of English and citizenship tests. In fact, this is the time for John Howard and his team to find some exploiting issues before the next general election. However, the Australian public must remember that Prime Minister John Howard and his team have registered the electoral victory on the platform of a tough stance against illegal immigrants, deliberately fanned inflamed emotions of the Australian people over asylum-seekers, terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism etc in the past elections. For instance, in the past, during the election campaign, John Howard employed the propaganda that people smugglers were minting money by pushing illegal immigrants into Australia and used the photographs showing children in the water to launch an obnoxious campaign by arguing that people who could callously throw their own children into the water could not be genuine refugees and, therefore, could not be permitted to enter Australia. Later, it surfaced that this was just an abominable election ploy that was corroborated by then parliamentary reports revealing that within a short time the government was informed that the photographs were actually taken when the boat people's vessel had sunk and that was why the children were seen in the water, but the government kept this fact from the public just to maintain the threshold of public anger against the asylum seekers and to eventually win the general elections.

Of course, there should not be any compromise on issues of security and integrity of Australia. The people living in Australia and those who want to come to Australia must respect Australia’s culture, tradition and laws. Yet, the question remains, is there any danger or threat to Australian values.

John Howard and his team have not yet explained exactly what kind of threat or danger Australia faces to its values and from whom. However, John Howard and his top ministers have only pointed their fingers towards the Islamic community – who are less than 2 percent of the entire Australian population - just like other ongoing issues of terrorism.

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(The writer is a Sydney-based journalist and media analyst).

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